A Woman Leader Makes a Difference in Japan

Japan continues to have one of the worst records of gender inequality in the workplace in the world. In a previous post, I cited Ben Dooley of the New York Times, who reported that

  • Women in Japan earn 44 percent less than men.
  • Only 6 percent of board directors in listed companies are women.
  • 44 percent of women worked in part-time or temporary positions compared with just under 12 percent of men.
  • Many women leave their jobs after having a child because Japan’s seniority-based systems do not allow them to make up lost time for maternity leave.
  • Japan ranks 120 out of 156 countries in gender equality by the World Economic Forum, even after years of government promises to help women “shine.”

In a new article, Ben Dooley and Hisako Ueno write that one of the problems for women has been that they “have never found a welcoming home in Japan’s labor unions. Sexism is entrenched. Problems like wage discrimination and sexual harassment at work are often ignored.” In a move that could prove to be beneficial for women in the labor market, Japan’s largest association of labor unions, Rengo, appointed its first female leader, Tomoko Yoshino, in October 2021. Rengo is a confederation of thousands of unions representing Japan’s largest and most successful companies.

Dooley and Ueno note that this appointment could turn out to be beneficial to both women in the labor force and to unions themselves. Labor unions in Japan have steadily declined in numbers and power while the numbers of women in the workforce have rapidly expanded. Labor unions represented more than 30 percent of Japanese workers until the energy crisis of the 1970s resulted in lots of layoffs. The economic stagnation of Japan’s economy in the 1990s further weakened the power of labor unions to their current representation of only 17 percent of the workforce. Because of their historical lack of support for female workers, women have largely given up on labor unions and may have to be convinced that unions care about their interests.

The authors point out some ways unions can help women:

  • Women need help managing both their jobs and the heavy expectations they face outside of work to be responsible for all the childcare, eldercare, and homecare in their families.
  • Women need unions to stand up against sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
  • Women often need help after being punished for taking maternity leave.

The good news for women in Japan is that Yoshino is now the head of Rengo, and she is committed to gender equality and women’s issues. As the leader of Rengo, she understands that 44 percent of women work part-time or in temporary positions compared with just under 12 percent of men. She understands that Japan’s labor unions are organized around specific companies and not around industries. In addition, traditional labor unions focus on regular, long-term workers in companies and not on supporting the irregular workers, most of whom are women. Irregular workers tend to switch companies frequently, and traditional labor unions have ignored them. Yoshino intends to focus on organizing industries such as department stores and supermarkets that employ large numbers of women as part-time or irregular workers and to fight for the things women need, such as childcare and protection from harassment.

Both women and labor unions have a chance to benefit from building union power, if Yoshino can overcome the resistance to change that is bound to be waiting for her. But a lot of people in Japan who know her talents and fighting spirit are betting that she can do it. Let’s also hope that she can.


Dear Readers:  After eight years of writing articles on gender (and other intersections of difference) issues in the workplace, I have decided to suspend this project for now. I appreciate your support over these years.


Anne Litwin


Photo by Eutah Mizushima on Unsplash

Legislators Who Are Mothers with Young Children

Lawmakers who are the mothers of young children face special challenges. Barbara Rodriguez, writing for the 19th, notes that while 31 percent of legislative seats across the United States are now held by women, little research has been done to understand the experiences of those who are mothers with young children. A nonprofit organization called Vote Mama Foundation, which advocates for policies that help mothers run for office, is undertaking a large study of women lawmakers to learn more about the structural barriers women may face while running for office and functioning successfully once elected. So far, Vote Mama has heard many stories that give a sense of some of the difficulties that women face. For example, Rodriguez shares these anecdotes:

  • In 2020, a Virginia lawmaker gave birth to her fifth child and was unable to bring her youngest child with her to the capitol because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On a recent workday, she drove three hours to spend two and a half hours with her family and to nurse her youngest child. This lawmaker pointed out, “You want to be present and with your family. . . . At the same time you are in the Capitol, and you want to show up every day for your constituents to do your work. It’s definitely a balancing act.”
  • A Michigan senator who gave birth to a daughter in early 2021 discovered that she and other lawmakers were not eligible for the twelve weeks of paid parental leave available to state workers because the legislators were technically a different kind of employee. She took the time she needed to recover from the birth and was attacked by a conservative opponent for missing the most votes that year without noting any context of her pregnancy.
  • In another example, the Michigan capitol does not have a lactation room, and lawmakers are not allowed to vote by proxy, which created challenges for parents during the pandemic.
  • The Nebraska state capitol had a lactation room, but last year, a lawmaker allowed it to be turned into an office.
  • In Colorado, a lawmaker was needed on the House floor for a vote. She was in her private office pumping breast milk at the time the vote was called. As a House leader, she had to be there but had no time to undo the pump and get her clothes back on. Keeping the breast pump attached to her body, she threw her suit jacket over “everything” and ran to the floor to vote. When she tweeted about the incident, a number of legislators with young children welcomed her to “our pump & vote club.”

Rodriguez quotes Michigan lawmaker Mallory McMorrow as saying, “It is a system that punishes people who are caregivers. And unless we change the system, it’s just effectively saying that this is not a place for somebody who’s a caregiver, which means that those lived experiences are not represented in the legislature.” Without these lived experiences being represented, the policies and legislation needed to support families will never be put in place.


Photo courtesy of ajay_suresh (CC BY 2.0)

Women Pay Women More in Colleges and Universities

New research from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, reported by Emma Whitford, shows that when women are the presidents and provosts of institutions of higher weducation, female senior faculty and top administrators earn more than at institutions where men are in charge. Furthermore, women occupy a higher percentage of top administrative positions when female presidents lead colleges and universities. Here are some specific examples reported by Whitford from the research:

  • Women make up 45 percent of senior officers at female-led institutions, compared with 42 percent at male-led institutions.
  • Six in ten division heads are women at female-led institutions, compared with 55 percent at male-led institutions.
  • About 63 percent of administrators—such as chief diversity officers and chief purchasing officers—at female-led institutions are women, compared with only 61 percent of administrators at male-led institutions.
  • Female administrators at female-led institutions generally earn more than their counterparts at male-led institutions, but, reports Whitford, “regardless of whether an institution has a female or male president, female administrators are typically paid less than men.”
  • At institutions with female provosts, 48 percent of deans are women, compared to 43 percent at institutions with male provosts.
  • Women make up 53 percent of assistant professors at institutions with female provosts and 50 percent of assistant professors at institutions with male provosts.

According to Angela Onwuachi-Willig, dean and professor of law at the Boston University School of Law, “Who is in leadership matters, because they’re more likely to see issues that might be invisible to somebody who didn’t share a particular identity.” For an example, pay equity is more likely to be a top priority for female leaders. Even policies like parental leave, available at many academic institutions for both mothers and fathers at the birth of a child, can have unequal consequences. For example, research shows that often the nonpregnant parent uses his or her leave to produce additional research while the pregnant parent is not able to do so. In this way, well-intended policies can have an unequal impact on careers that female leaders may be more attuned to. The transparency provided by this research helps dispel myths and documents truths about differences in gendered leadership. More transparency is needed.


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International Roundup: Women in the News

Notable gender-related changes that fit with the interests and purpose of this blog—gender issues in the workplace—are happening all over the world. The people and events involved are inspirational and informative. Here are a few recent ones.


Salman Masood writes that after decades of struggle to secure representation and rights for women, Justice Ayesha A. Malik has been cleared to be appointed to the Pakistani Supreme Court. In this conservative, male-dominated society, where sexual assault and discrimination are largely ignored by the legal system, this “is a small step forward in [the] struggle” for female representation, said Zarmeeneh Rahim, an Islamabad-based lawyer. Nonetheless, as Aliya Hamza Malik, a member of Parliament, noted, “It is a defining moment for women’s empowerment in the country.”

South Korea

Choe Sang-Hun, writing for the New York Times, reports that limited job opportunities and the #MeToo movement have produced a strong backlash from angry young men in South Korea against feminists, who some call “a social evil.” More than three-quarters of young men in their twenties say that they are victims of serious reverse gender discrimination despite these facts:

  • South Korea has the highest gender wage gap among wealthy countries.
  • Less than one-fifth of its national lawmakers are women.
  • Women make up only 5.2 percent of board members of publicly listed businesses, compared to 28 percent in the United States.

While more women attend college than men and women have more opportunities in government than they’ve ever had before, a significant glass ceiling still exists. But in the current presidential election campaigns, no major candidate is speaking out for women’s rights, which is a major reversal from past elections as recent as five years ago.

Women’s rights activists have made gains in recent years in expanding women’s rights, legalizing abortion, and starting one of the most powerful #MeToo movements in Asia. They worry that the current environment will result in a blockage or rollback of hard-won progress.


Natalie Kitroeff writes that just days after Texas began enacting a new ban on abortions, which effectively makes abortion unattainable in Texas, “Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that abortion could no longer be treated as a crime.” Feminists in Mexico fought for years to help Mexican women get access to abortion-inducing drugs and to get safe abortion legalized. Now that they have succeeded, they plan to help American women get abortions in Mexico or gain access to the medical abortion drug misoprostol. Misoprostol, a safe, effective, and often cheap drug, was recently approved by the US FDA for delivery by mail for home use so women can end pregnancies in private. The United States is a global outlier in access to abortion, but women will always find a way if they need one.


Journalist Jane Arraf, writing for the New York Times, reports that Randa Abd Al-Aziz, has made Iraqi history by becoming the first Black Iraqi news anchor employed on air at the state television news and information in at least two decades. Other Black news anchors were possibly hired during Saddam Hussein’s rule, but no one can remember that being the case. She may be the first ever African Iraqi news anchor. African Iraqis have been part of Iraq for a long time, but they do not see themselves represented in public roles:

  • About 1.5 million African Iraqis live in the country of forty million.
  • Black Iraqis have no political representation as Iraq’s Parliament does not have a single Black lawmaker.
  • No senior Black officials work in government ministries.

Arraf explains, “Most members of Iraq’s Black community are descendants of enslaved East Africans brought to the southern coast of Iraq beginning in the ninth century” as part of a slave trade that lasted for more than one thousand years. Racism against Black Iraqis is deeply entrenched in Iraqi culture. Black students tend to drop out of school due to bullying by students and teachers. The illiteracy rate among Black Iraqis was 80 percent in 2011 when the survey was last done. This visible public role for Abd Al-Aziz is bound to have a positive impact on Black Iraqis, showing them they, too, can aspire to be all they can be.


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Women Physicians Speak Out Less in the Classroom: New Research

New research on gender differences comes to us from a colleague, Patricia Day Williams, who supplied an interesting backstory on how this research came about. It seems that three young women physicians taking a graduate-level summer course as fellows at the Harvard School of Public Health noticed gender differences in participation among their classmates who were also primarily physicians. They thought they noticed less participation and less assertiveness from the female students compared to the males. The women undertook a small study as part of their coursework and documented the differences they had seen. Because grading and promotions are often determined by classroom participation, the researchers wondered if some of the disparities in pay and opportunities for women physicians might be the result of current “systems of evaluation that may be biased towards characteristics more common in men” that disadvantage women.

They pursued funding and support to do a larger, more definitive study in the hope that their findings would raise awareness in medical and public health schools and encourage the redesign of systems of evaluation to be fairer and more inclusive.

The authors—Sara J. Comer, Kristin M. D’Silva, Neelam A. Phadke, Emma Lord, Nancy A. Rigotti, and Heather J. Baer—conducted this larger study over two years. In 2019, they studied behavioral observations of 156 students (60 percent women) in large in-person lecture-based classes and smaller discussion-based classes during a two-week period. In 2020, the researchers observed the behavior of 138 students (61 percent women) in large and small virtual classes from July through August. Here are some of their findings:

  • During the large in-person classes, women had a lower rate of both asking and answering questions.
  • During the small-discussion in-person classes, women both asked and answered questions at the same rate as men.
  • In the large virtual classes, women had a similar rate of asking questions but a lower rate of answering them.
  • In the small virtual discussion groups, women had a higher rate of asking questions than men and a similar rate of answering them.
  • Women used deferential language more often than men, such as “Sorry to interrupt” and “Maybe I missed this” before asking a question during both large in-person and large virtual classes, according to lead author Sara J. Cromer. But women and men used the same amount of deferential language in small classes, either in-person or virtual.

These innovative researchers most likely had planned to collect their data during in-person classes, but because they had to pivot in 2020 during the pandemic, when all classes became virtual, they have provided valuable insight into some gender differences for in-person versus virtual classroom and meeting settings. To summarize,

  • Women ask questions at the same rate as men in large virtual classes, compared to large in-person classes, where women both asked and answered questions at a lower rate than men did. This means that large virtual groups work better for women than large in-person groups for asking questions.
  • Women ask questions at higher rates than men in small virtual discussion groups and at the same rate as men in small in-person groups. This means that small groups work well for women.
  • Women answered questions at the same rate as men in both in-person and virtual small groups. Again, small groups work well for women.

In other words, both large virtual settings and all small-group settings encourage equal participation from women. What is it about large in-person group settings that seem to shut women down? Or perhaps the question is, What can meeting and classroom leaders do to ensure equal time for women’s voices during large in-person settings? These questions may seem insignificant, but they are not. Both the systems of evaluation based on participation and something about large group settings create disadvantages for women’s advancement. Let’s figure this out.


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The Cost to Men of Societal Expectations: Male Burnout

I remember when my brother, who is thirteen years younger than me and the only male child in our family, learned key lessons on how to be masculine. My father bought him a gun when he was about eight and took him hunting to shoot rabbits. My brother did not what to shoot or kill anything, and he cried and protested. My father made him shoot and kill a rabbit by shaming him, calling him a sissy, and saying he would never be his “real son” if he didn’t do it without crying. Real sons don’t cry. I watched my previously sensitive brother shut down and change dramatically as he walled himself off from his emotions to please my father. This transformation was heartbreaking for me to watch.

This not showing emotion or vulnerability may be one of the factors in male burnout, described by Jonathan Malesic, writing for the New York Times. Malesic notes that while much attention has been paid to women’s burnout during the pandemic due to the disproportionate strain of balancing work, housework, and caregiving, not enough attention has been paid to men’s burnout. Men are experiencing burnout in significant numbers, which is contributing to the staff shortages in every industry.

Malesic reports that burnout is defined by researchers as “a syndrome with three dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism and a sense of ineffectiveness.” The author notes that while both women and men experience all three dimensions of burnout, the patterns are different. For example, a large study conducted in 2010 found that women tend to score higher on the exhaustion scale while men score higher on the cynicism scale. Cynicism is also called “emotional distancing.” This sense of hopelessness, exhaustion, and a lack of motivation or the ability to care about one’s job and sometimes about one’s family can be overwhelming.

Malesic points out the different types of factors that may impact men’s burnout:

  • The enduring “breadwinner ethos” describes the societal expectation that men need to prove their manhood through their performance at work. Malesic notes that “our society still largely equates masculinity with being a stoical wage earner.”
  • Stoicism, or emotional distancing, is coded as masculine and seen as a sign of professional competence in stereotypical cultural archetypes such as stern managers, hard-boiled police officers, or brusque physicians. The author notes that the fictional titular television character Ted Lasso is seen as funny and a bit silly because he defies the cultural masculine stereotypes as a positive and emotionally supportive soccer coach.
  • Men are less likely than women to talk about their problems. Men are 40 percent less likely than women to seek professional counseling for any reason. Men also have fewer friends to talk with and often do not have anyone, aside from a spouse or partner, they feel they can open up to.
  • Men are not prepared by society to share the burden of parenthood and do not see parenting as an integral part of being a man, according to a study on parenting conducted in Belgium. This factor could contribute to a high rate of burnout in fathers, who see their role of parenting conflicting with their breadwinner role.

The author notes that younger men may think this breadwinner ethos is a concept of the past, but they’d be wrong. A study by the Pew Research Center in 2017 reported that

  • 71 percent of Americans thought “being able to support a family” was important for a man to be a good husband, compared with 32 percent who said it was important for a woman to be a good wife.
  • 64 percent of adults aged eighteen to twenty-nine said breadwinning was important to be a good husband while 34 percent said it was important to be a good wife.

I agree with Malesic when he says that to end our burnout culture for men, we need new ideals about the role of work and values that focus less on economic productivity and more on loyalty, solidarity, and courage—“including the courage to quit a job, raise a child or both.”


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New Research on Gender Gaps

When I hear the term gender gap, I tend to think of the gender wage gap or the gender voting gap, both of which have been regularly discussed in the public domain in recent years. A summary of new research by Thomas B. Edsall, writing for the New York Times, reveals multiple dimensions of the gender gap that have implications for differences not only in voting patterns but also in government policy priorities and organizational leadership and cultures. These differences make the case for balanced representation.

Edsall reports on the following statistics:

  • In a 2016 survey of 137,456 full-time first-year students at 184 colleges and universities in the United States, the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute found the “largest-ever gender gap in terms of political leanings: 41.1 percent of women identified as liberal or far left, compared to 28.9 percent of men.”
  • A Knight Foundation survey in 2017 of 3,014 college students asked, “If you had to choose, which do you think is more important, a diverse and inclusive society or protecting free speech rights?” Male students preferred protecting free speech over inclusion by 61 to 39 percent. Female students favored inclusion over free speech by 64 to 35 percent.
  • The article “The Suffragist Peace,” published in 2018 by Joslyn N. Barnhart, Allan Dafoe, Elizbeth N. Saunders, and Robert F. Trager, cites research showing that preferences for conflict and cooperation are systematically different for men and women. Women prefer peaceful options and are more willing to see their leaders back down than engage in wars. They conclude that the more women participate in voting and governance, the more democracy and democratic peace will result.
  • Other studies confirm earlier feminist research showing that men and women broadly differ in values as defined by care, fairness, benevolence, and protecting the welfare of others. In line with these differences in values, women are more likely than men to regard hate speech as a form of violence rather than as free-speech expression.
  • Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at NYU’s Stern School of Business, notes that both men and women are competitive. While men enjoy direct status competition, women use competition strategies that minimize the risk of retaliation, disguise competition, and avoid interference in other women’s goals.
  • Between 1992 and 2016, political scientists at North Carolina State University and Augusta University analyzed the responses of those who identified themselves as feminists or antifeminists based on surveys conducted by the American National Election Studies. During this period, the total number of voters saying they were feminists grew from 28 to 34 percent. The biggest gains were among young voters. Self-identification as feminist by women with college degrees rose from 34 to 61 percent in contrast to men with college degrees, whose self-identification as feminist fell from 37 to 35 percent.

In conclusion, the gender gaps described above have a lot of potential implications for government, organizations, and society. Certainly not all women or men are the same, but the trends in dimensions of gender differences described by Edsall suggest, in general terms, that women and men bring important contrasts to the table. Women still do not have equal representation in government or organizational leadership roles, both of which shape policy and culture. More representation and voice in these positions of influence could result in less war and more equitable organizations and society.


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Older Workers Are Retiring in Greater Numbers

Much has been written about staffing shortages in almost every sector of our economy and the high rates of “quitting” by lower-wage workers. While research shows that many white women and women of color, especially mothers, are quitting because of a lack of workplace support for childcare and other family challenges such as eldercare, a new study by William M. Rodgers III and Lowell Ricketts of the Institute for Economic Equity at the Federal Reserve of Saint Louis focuses on the unusually high exit from the labor force of workers who are age sixty-five and older. The authors note that rate of retirement among those sixty-five and older “exceeds that predicted by the demographic shift of baby boomers” and is an important contributor to the widespread labor shortages in the United States. While I was not surprised about parents having to leave the workplace during the pandemic because of the demands of remote schooling and the lack of childcare, I was surprised by this information about “the great retirement.”

This study by the Institute for Economic Equity found the following:

  • Retirements were much more common among older white women without college education.
  • Male workers were less likely to be retired than their female counterparts.
  • Black, Hispanic, and Native American workers were less likely to be retired than their white peers of similar ages.
  • Workers who were married or widowed were more likely to be retired than their single peers who have never been married.
  • Workers with at least some college education were less likely to be retired than their peers with a high school diploma or less education.
  • As household income increases, the likelihood of retirement declines.
  • Veterans were more likely to be retired versus nonveterans.
  • Rates of anxiety were significantly lower among retirees relative to their similarly aged peers still in the labor force, which may reflect the fear of the virus for older workers.

Some of these findings seem contradictory and are not explained by the authors. For example, why are workers with less education and income more likely to retire than those with higher household incomes? It would seem that lower-wage workers would feel more pressure to stay in the workforce than would be true for households with higher incomes.

In another seemingly contradictory finding, the authors note that the tumult of the pandemic economy produced asset appreciation in investment and residential real estate with average net worth jumping 12 percent and 14.8 percent among households with a head of household aged fifty-five to sixty-nine and seventy and older, respectively. They speculate that this increase in assets may have motivated retirements among those workers with the means to do so, which makes sense but seems to contradict other findings.

Despite some contradictory finds, this study does identify an important trend to be aware of. The great labor shortage we are experiencing means that the loss of experienced talent through unusually high rates of retirement of older workers is a significant factor that employers might want to address. Creative solutions, such as part-time employment, might lure much-needed older workers back into the workforce.


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Forgotten Women in History—Part VIII

I find it inspiring to learn about women in history who broke barriers and forged new pathways. Often, their accomplishments have been lost or forgotten—or at least were unknown to me. Here are the brief stories of four more amazing women I have recently stumbled across.

Gertrude Jeannette (1914–2018)

Reportedly the first woman to drive a taxi in New York City, Gertrude Jeannette got her license to drive taxis in 1942. Jonathan Wolfe, writing for the New York Times, explains that Black drivers were not allowed to work downtown, so when Jeannette pulled up to the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Manhattan to try to get her first customer, the other drivers tried to cut her off and hurled insults at her as a Black woman. After intentionally ramming into a Checker cab that had lurched in front of her to cut her off, she drove off from the Waldorf with her first customer.

Jeannette later overcame a childhood stutter and became a Broadway, film, and television actor and playwright. She was barred from working in theaters during the Red Scare of the 1950s because of her association with Paul Robeson, who was on a watch list due to his activism. Jeannette then set up a succession of theater companies in Harlem to make sure the community continued to have top-notch theater. Wolfe explains that she continued to act into her eighties and retired from directing at ninety-eight.

Julia Tuttle (1849–1898)

Known as the “Mother of Miami,” Julia Tuttle is recognized as the only woman to have founded a major American city. Elena Sheppard writes that Tuttle purchased 640 acres on the north side of the Miami River, land from which Native American tribes, most notably the Tequesta, had been ousted during the Seminole Wars. The daughter of a homesteader, she worked with other landowners to attract the building of a railroad in 1896 to the swampy area to encourage development and settlement. In 1896, Miami was incorporated, but Tuttle, being a woman, was not permitted to cast a vote. Tuttle built a hotel, was one of the first directors of the Bank of Bay Biscayne (until forced to resign because she was a woman), and spent her short life developing the fledgling city. Tuttle died in 1898 at the age of forty-nine.

Claudette Colvin (1940–present day)

Claudette Colvin’s role in the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 and the broader civil rights movement has been overlooked. But now, reports Eduardo Medina, she says, “I wanted my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to understand that their grandmother stood up for something very important, and that it changed our lives a lot, changed attitudes.” That is why she filed a petition in October 2021 to have her juvenile arrest record expunged because she felt justice from the court system was sixty-six years past due.

Medina reports that in March 1955, when Colvin was fifteen, she refused to give up her seat in the Whites-only section of a bus in Montgomery. She was promptly arrested and kicked by officers as they dragged her off the bus. She was convicted of violating the city’s segregation law, causing disorderly conduct, and assaulting an officer, and she went on to become the star witness in 1956 in the landmark case that effectively ended bus segregation. Colvin’s arrest came nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, but Parks is the one who became the face of the movement, and Colvin was forgotten.

Medina notes that the current judge handling Colvin’s case to clear her record is Calvin L. Williams, the first Black judge to serve in Alabama’s Fifteen Judicial Circuit Court. Williams notes that history has come full circle when he, a Black judge, can bring justice to a case where justice was so long denied to a Black person.

Alice Guy Blaché (1873–1968)

In 1911, Alice Guy Blaché was recognized as the first female filmmaker in history in an article published in the Moving Picture News. Elizabeth Weitzman reports that “until recently, Guy Blaché was mostly relegated to the footnotes: credited regularly as the first female filmmaker (when credited at all), but overlooked in terms of her impact as an artist and an innovator.” She began making films in 1896, with around one thousand films under her belt by the end of her career. As Weitzman describes, Guy Blaché was “constantly pushing visual and thematic boundaries. She experimented with early synchronized sound, color and special effects. She explored gender, race and class. And she inspired future giants like Sergei Eisenstein.”

Manohla Dargis of the New York Times writes that Guy Blaché was born in France and began her filmmaking career there. She moved to the United States in 1907 to continue her filmmaking and by 1910 had established her own film studio, Solax Company. Her films included gun-toting heroines and many other groundbreaking themes. By the 1920s, the movie industry had become big business and was no longer hospitable to women. She returned to France, but she could not find work there as a filmmaker. She also tried to find her catalog of films, but they were presumed lost, and she was forgotten. “Only now,” writes Dargis, “largely because of the feminist film scholars who are writing women back into history, does her place seems secure.”

By not forgetting these women, we honor those who came before us and make space for new visionaries in the years ahead.


Photo courtesy of Phillip Pessar (CC BY 2.0)

Sexual Harassment in the Military: Some Progress at Last

At long last, some change is coming in the way sexual assaults are handled in the military. Jennifer Steinhauer writes that a landmark agreement has been reached to “strip military commanders of most of their authority to prosecute sexual assaults and myriad other criminal cases.” Under the current law, commanders can protect their subordinates accused of sexual harassment or assault by declining to refer their cases to courts-martial and by selecting the pool of eligible jurors. They also notoriously look the other way when those who file complaints face retaliation, which can damage the victims’ careers. Even General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, despite having long opposed these changes, had to acknowledge that “junior enlisted troops had largely lost faith that sexual assault cases would be handled fairly,” according to Steinhauer.

While Milley now supports the change, Pentagon leaders, lawmakers, and American presidents have resisted this change for a generation, reports Steinhauer. The new legislation is the result of nearly two decades of efforts by female lawmakers and survivor groups, led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, democrat of New York, and Representative Jackie Speier, democrat of California. They have met resistance at every turn, and even the new legislation does not go as far as is needed. Under the new law,

  • Independent military prosecutors would replace commanders in determining whether those accused of sexual assault, rape, murder, or domestic violence would be prosecuted.
  • Sexual harassment would be criminalized.
  • Commanders would maintain their authority to conduct trials, choose jury members, grant immunity, and select witnesses.

Gillibrand feels this last item undermines the change that is needed. She notes, “Removing that authority from commanders is critical,” and it represents a setback as a legislative compromise. She and Speier vow to keep fighting for true military justice reforms.

The new law will take two years to implement. In 2019 alone, Steinhauer writes, 7,825 incidences of sexual assault involving service members as victims were reported. Only 7 percent resulted in convictions. This new legislation is a step forward, but more steps are necessary before confidence in military justice for service members filing assault claims can be established.


Photo courtesy of Maryland National Guard (CC BY-ND 2.0)