Women Pioneers and Heroines: Past and Present

Wyoming is a state with a long history of firsts for women. Sebastian Modak of the New York Times writes that:

  • In 1869, the Wyoming territory guaranteed women the right to vote—51 years before the guarantee of voting rights for women came with the passage of the 19th Amendment.
  • In 1870, Esther Hobart Morris became the country’s first female justice of the peace in Wyoming; Martha Symons became the first female bailiff; Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first female governor of the United States in 1925 in Wyoming.
  • In 2017, Affie Ellis became the first Native American elected to the Wyoming Senate. Ellis said she felt compelled to run for office when she took her daughter to a Senate debate and saw there was only one woman senator. When her daughter asked, “Mom, do they let girls be in the Senate?” she knew she had to run for office.

Nicholas Kristof writes about two present-day heroines for the New York Times. One, Nasrin Sotoudeh, is in Iran, and the other, Loujain al-Hathloul, is in Saudia Arabia. Both women have challenged the barbaric treatment of women in their respective countries:

  • Nasrin Sotoudeh, 55, is a writer and human rights lawyer in Iran who has been sentenced to 38 years in prison plus 148 lashes. Her crime—advocating for the rights of women and abused children as a human rights lawyer and inspiring other activists to speak out and to refuse to wear head scarves as a protest against the oppression of women.
  • Loujain al-Hathloul, 29, a leader of the Saudi women’s rights movement, has undergone months of imprisonment, torture, sexual harassment, water-boarding, and electric shocks. Her crimes—communicating with human rights groups and criticizing the Saudi government’s “guardianship” system, which restricts the movement and independence of all women.

Kristof has suggested that both women be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for confronting tyrants on behalf of women and girls. He implores us to keep awareness of their names and their treatment in the public sphere as this is their only hope for survival and/or release.

Dr. Karen Uhlenbeck, an American, has become the first woman to receive the Abel Prize for mathematics, an award modeled on the Nobel Prize, from the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Kenneth Chang writes that Uhlenbeck helped pioneer a field known as geometric analysis and developed techniques commonly used by many mathematicians. She later worked on gauge theories in the field of physics. Uhlenbeck acknowledges that as part of the pioneering generation of women who were able to get real jobs in academia, she has been a role model for other women. She notes that there were no role models for her and states, “I never felt like one of the guys.” The only influential woman she could find to look up to was on television—Julia Child.

We all owe thanks and gratitude to these role models who inspire and encourage us to take courageous stands for ourselves and for others to make the world a better place.


Photo courtesy of https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/statue-esther-hobart-morris-first-female-92635246?src=library

What Men Can Do to Stop Sexual Harassment

The recent explosion of sexual harassment accusations against high-profile men and the outpouring of painful sexual harassment experiences in #MeToo messages on Twitter from women (and some men) across the globe have, as reported by Nellie Bowles, shocked many men into reflecting on their own behavior. My own partner, a devoted feminist, began to question whether any of his actions might have recently caused discomfort for a woman friend. In our discussions he agreed with a recent observation by Charles M. Blow of the New York Times that he (Blow) has male privilege because he is over six feet tall, weighs more than 200 pounds, and never has to think about being sexually assaulted or harassed. This male privilege can make him and other men blind or oblivious to the impact of their actions on women, even when they think they are just being friendly. Blow also makes the point that, as a man, being a good listener and understanding women’s experiences intellectually does not equate to having the lived experience of physical vulnerability and multiple occurrences of sexual harassment that many women have. In another article, Blow challenges men to reexamine their cultural assumptions about toxic, privileged masculinity, starting with the obvious:

  • There is no sex without consent. Rape is not sex; it is rape.
  • Unwanted touching is not sexy; it’s assault.
  • Sexual advances in a work environment, particularly from those in a position of power, are highly inappropriate and possibly illegal.
  • In almost all environments, rubbing your penis against people, masturbating in front of them or showing your penis is wrong, humiliating, and possibly illegal.
  • If you become involved sexually with a minor, that is not a relationship or dating; it is exploitation of a minor and possibly statutory rape.
What can men do to stop sexual harassment and assault? Shirley Leung of the Boston Globe and Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times offer these suggestions:
  • Listen more to women and seek to understand their experiences.
  • Don’t be silent. Silence is the enemy. Speak out and stand up to other men.
  • Cut out “guy talk” in the workplace.
  • Think twice about hugging in the workplace. Shake hands instead.
  • Do not think that sexual harassment training is enough. Anti-harassment training is ineffective unless policies and procedures are changed to make it safe for women to report sexual harassment without fear of retaliation. Provide multiple reporting channels, follow up, and act on reports.
  • Do not comment on the appearance of female coworkers when not saying the same things to male coworkers.
  • Fire the men who sexually harass as well as the men and women who are complicit.
  • Have dialogue with family and friends and stop sexist remarks, jokes, and behavior when you see or hear them.
  • Be more careful about corporate offsite meetings or social events. Some leaders are limiting the availability of alcohol and holding social events in the day instead of at night.
  • Do not avoid mentoring or sponsoring women. Behave respectfully and check in with women about whether they feel harassed or uncomfortable.
Charles Blow adds:
  • Every man must become a feminist and work hard to elevate gender equality and to eliminate gender violence.
  • Every man must do the hard work of expanding his understanding, empathy, and experience to become an ally of all women.
  • Every man must advocate for cultural and policy changes that would make women’s lives better.
Blow believes that real change will have occurred when ordinary, powerless, invisible women and men can speak up and press charges against harassers without feeling fear of negative repercussions. He goes on to note that society has nourished the dangerous idea that unbridled male aggression “is prized,” that “boys will be boys,” and that men are not responsible for their actions because “horny men cannot control themselves.” This is all “a lie,” he says. Men can control themselves. Our culture has to stop nurturing hostile masculinity—or the courts will have to do it for us. Is your company reexamining its own thinking and practices more carefully? Let us know what efforts your organization is making to create a healthier workplace.   Photo by Kreg Steppe, CC BY-SA 2.0.  ]]>

Why Women Are Good Lawmakers—and Why We Need More of Them

Do you know a woman who has recently decided to run for office? Suddenly, I know several. Brittany Bronson, writing for the New York Times, explains that the 2016 presidential election “was a wake-up call for American women, one that has inspired their increased grassroots activism and political involvement.” One of the main reasons that women have been so poorly represented in government in the past is that few women ran for office. That is changing, and the results will be good for all of us. The state of Nevada provides a case study of the positive impact for both women and men when women are well represented in state legislatures. Bronson explains that with women making up 39.7 percent of Nevada’s lawmakers, the state ranks second only to Vermont in women’s representation in state politics. The impact has been a focus on issues important to women that are usually ignored by male legislators, such as family-friendly policies in the workplace that benefit both women and men, the gender wage gap, and the “pink tax,” or the extra amount women are charged for feminine hygiene products. The female legislators of Nevada also have sponsored legislation supporting the Equal Rights Amendment and eliminating co-pays for contraception. How can men benefit from having more women colleagues in legislative roles? Bronson notes that studies have shown that while women may support a wide range of positions, “they are often more compassionate, better at working across the aisle, and more willing to compromise, qualities intricately bound in successful policy making.” Having more female lawmakers will help everyone get more done. Encourage the women you know to run for office—and vote for women candidates. As noted by Hillary Clinton in her recent postelection interview, we need women to get involved in making laws if gender discrimination in our society is ever going to be removed. Vote for women and help them get elected. Their engagement as lawmakers will be good for all of us.   Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats. CC by 2.0      ]]>

Why Work Is Good for Women

I have always had a fierce drive for financial independence. When I was a girl child in the 1950s and 1960s, I remember reflecting on my mother’s traditional suburban life as a homemaker and being horrified by her lack of independence. Although she was living a life that met society’s expectations, she often told me stories about dreams she had abandoned to be a wife and mother. I also knew that while she and my father had rough patches in their marriage from time to time, leaving him was not an option for her. She had only a middle-school education and limited work experience. She had no financial independence. She was stuck. I vowed not to be like her. Her options were limited, and, while more types of jobs are available to women today than in her time, some of our society’s assumptions and expectations about women and work have not changed. Jill Filipovic of the New York Times writes about the ambivalence still present in the United States about women and work. She notes that while work is still acknowledged as important to men’s sense of self-worth and identity as providers, “historically women weren’t supposed to need their individual identity to be formed through work . . . women’s identities have long been relational—daughter, wife, mother—rather than individual.” In fact, this difference seems to have been a strong driver in the 2016 presidential election as white working-class women and men voted for Trump, who promised to bring back the blue-collar jobs that provided self-worth for white working-class men and paid wages that reinforced their identity as providers. Even though women surged into the workforce between 1950 and 2000 and the number of hours worked by both black and white women more than doubled, Americans still remain ambivalent about women working today. Filipovic notes that there is no robust feminist argument in favor of women working outside the home. I remember when early second-wave feminists did try to make this argument in the 1970s and 1980s, and the backlash was so swift and fierce that they had to back down. Remember when Hillary Clinton had to bake cookies in the 1990s when her husband ran for president to prove that she was an acceptable woman even though she had a successful law career? Filipovic writes, “That feminists are so often unable or unwilling to make a vigorous moral argument in favor of women working . . . is perhaps one reason we have not yet seen the political groundswell necessary to pass the workplace policies we so desperately need.” Research shows, however, that it is good for everyone when women work:

  • Women are better off when we work outside of the home: our mental and physical health are better and our levels of happiness are higher.
  • Daughters of working mothers tend to be higher achievers.
  • Men raised by working mothers do more housework and child care as adults.
  • Men who have working wives tend to be more supportive of, and give more promotions to, female coworkers.
  • Women who are financially independent are less likely to get stuck in abusive or unhappy relationships.
Unfortunately, public opinion remains stuck. Filipovic reports that “just over half of Americans believe children are better off with a mother who is at home full time and does not hold a job. Only 8 percent say the same thing about fathers.” Our ambivalence about women working and achieving successful careers runs deep. A recent study reported in the Boston Globe found that “after the hiring of a female or minority CEO, white male executives identified less with the company and felt less valued by it, than when a white male CEO was hired.” No wonder we have not been able to elect a female president or pass legislation that supports women working outside of the home. We seem to have a long way to go, baby! Photo courtesy of Jo Guildl. CC by 2.0]]>

Who Is a Feminist? What Is Intersectional Feminism?

I became an active feminist in the 1960s and 1970s as part of the second-wave feminist movement. In some ways, what being a feminist means to me has never changed: being committed to making life better for women—all women. At the same time, my understanding of what feminism means has morphed and evolved over the years and is not the same as in the 1960’s and 1970’s. At that time, we white middle-class second wave feminists thought we were fighting to improve the lives of all women, but we were clueless about the issues of women who were not white, straight, and middle class. This cluelessness inflicted serious damage on the credibility of feminism, for good reason. Some of us, myself included, were slow learners. The seeds of distrust between middle-class white feminists and women of color were actually planted long long ago during the first wave of feminism. The white leaders of the fight to get the vote for women, the suffragists, did not allow the issues of black women onto their agenda. They decided to stay focused on the vote and would not include the abolition of slavery in their fight. The plea of Sojourner Truth, an African American woman who had been a slave, to the suffragists at their convention, “Ain’t I a woman, too?” summed up a challenge to the suffragists to be inclusive of black women’s issues in their women’s movement. This plea went largely unheeded. Understanding this history, I was not surprised that many women of color had a strong reaction when the January 21, 2017, Women’s March on Washington (and in three hundred other cities) was announced. Many women of color felt their issues and leadership were excluded by the organizers. While there were some missteps in the language and leadership of the march when it was first announced, these mistakes seem to have been corrected fairly quickly. Still, the damage was done for some who were too angry to participate. When I attended the march, though, I was pleased to see a wide range of issues represented by the marchers, who all felt like they belonged under the banner of feminism. I now understand that there are many feminisms, not just one, and there are both differences and commonalities among them. At the march I saw many signs held by women of all ages and races that said, “I am an intersectional feminist,” and I thought, “Yes! This represents how I think of feminism now.” For me, intersectional feminism means that in order to improve the lives of all women, we must understand the ways that our differences in social class, sexual orientation, immigration status, nationality of origin, race, ethnicity, gender identity, and other differences intersect with our gender to make some issues more important than others for different groups of women. For example, If I am a low-wage worker, earning a living wage and getting access to affordable child care is probably more important to me than closing the gender pay gap. If I am an African American woman, stopping the indiscriminate killing of black women and men by police officers and stopping the mass incarceration of black men probably would be more important than closing the gender pay gap. It’s not that the gender pay gap isn’t important, but we need to understand how the intersections of gender and other differences make our experiences and priorities as women different. We also need to be able to stand up for each other’s issues and speak up for each other’s priority struggles. All of our issues need to be on the change agenda to improve the lives of women. As an intersectional feminist, these are issues that I think belong on the change agenda that we must work on together:

  • Black Lives Matter—ending mass incarceration and the killing of black women and men by police
  • Protections for immigrant families who fear the breakup of families by deportation
  • Economic justice for low-wage workers who need a living wage—the fight for a $15 minimum wage
  • Affordable child care for all
  • Affordable healthcare for all
  • Reproductive freedom by having access to birth control and abortion
  • Freedom from sexual assault
  • Rights and protections for LGBTQQIA communities
  • Religious freedom and an end to discrimination against Muslims
  • Equal pay—ending all gender and other identity-related pay gaps
  • Passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and the Violence Against Women Act
  • End to all types of employment discrimination including discrimination based on gender, race, gender identity, and so on
I know that this list is incomplete, and it might be different for someone else. Are you an intersectional feminist? What does this mean to you? What issues are a priority for you?   Image courtesy of Lorie Shaull. CC by 2.0  ]]>

Women in China: Still Waiting for Equality

I have the good fortune to travel to mainland China two or three times a year. As a practicing organization development consultant and trainer for more than thirty years, it is a thrill for me to share my knowledge and experience in China by teaching leadership and consulting skills workshops to Chinese professionals. I have been fascinated with China ever since I taught English there in the 1980s when the country was newly opened to Western tourism and commerce after being closed to the West for decades. I continue to marvel at the changes that the Chinese have accomplished since my first visit over thirty years ago. I have seen the country evolve from a backward Third World country to a First World global power. But, to my surprise, one thing that has not changed is discrimination against women in society and the workplace. In the 1980s my female Chinese students peppered me with questions about the Western Women’s Liberation Movement. They explained and complained that even though Mao taught that “women hold up half the sky,” women were not really equal in China. In fact, they explained, while women were expected to pursue careers and compete with men in the marketplace, women were also expected to assume sole responsibility for performing housework, raising children, and caring for elderly parents. The women were frustrated in the 1980s and wanted me to tell them how to start a women’s liberation movement in China. Now, fast-forward to today, and I regret to report that the women in my workshops in Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou still complain that women are expected to do it all while working—with little or no involvement from their male spouses. In addition, they face stereotypes and social norms that create other barriers for them. Helen Gao, writing for the New York Times, sheds light on present-day discrimination faced by Chinese women as follows:

  1. Social norms prescribe that the husband should provide the majority of the money for buying a home upon marriage and should also be the sole holder of the title. Gao reports that “a 2012 study found that 70 percent of brides or their families contributed to the purchase of a home, yet a woman’s name appeared on only 30 percent of the deeds.” The divorce rate in China has doubled in recent years, and Chinese women have no right to property if their name is not on the title.
  2. Widespread pregnancy discrimination exists in the workplace in China for women with no children or one child. The lifting of the one-child policy by the government, now allowing couples to have two children, means that women with none or one child have a hard time finding a job. Employers do not want to hire someone who might get pregnant.
  3. The aging of the Chinese population also creates added responsibility for women. With few services provided by the government and no siblings to help with aging parents because of the one-child policy, Goa explains that “wives are often expected to care for their own parents as well as their husbands’,” while working full time.
  4. Unmarried women are stigmatized and often have difficulty finding a job. Because they are unmarried, even if they are divorced, especially if they are thirty or older, they are considered to have “severe personality flaws” or “psychological issues” that make them undesirable hires. The social pressure to be normal by being married and having at least one child is enormous for women.
While some limited public discussion of these issues has begun on social media, and some women are meeting privately in “lean-in” circles, Gao reports that a recent public protest over sexual harassment on public transportation by women’s rights activists was met with “a ruthless state crackdown.” It is still quite dangerous for women to hold public protests to speak out about women’s issues. The women I meet in my workshops are strong and frustrated about the load they must carry and the barriers they face. Perhaps one day they will be able to get their voices heard. Let’s hope it will be soon.   Photo Credit: By Steve Evans from Citizen of the World – China, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25845033    ]]>

Women Competing with Women: How to Make Competition Fun and Energizing

As a consultant and coach for more than thirty years, I have heard too many painful stories from female clients about feeling unsupported and even undermined by other women at work. When I decided to research this dynamic for my book, New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together, I found that these feelings and experiences happen for a reason: organizations actually set up women to feel competitive with one another. This happens when women see very few other women in senior leadership positions. As one of my research participants explained: You’re playing a game with men because there are so few women at the top. Because there are few slots for women, you see the successful women as your competition. You don’t really see the whole pie or all the people out there as your competition. Belinda MJ Brown, writing for Forbes, suggests that the recent Olympic Games offer women in corporations another way to think about competition as a win-win scenario rather than a win-lose, or zero-sum-game, scenario. She reminds us of the recent Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman and Simone Biles who, while competing with each other for Olympic Gold, were also able to cheer each other on to outperform their own previous performances. This reminds me of my own experience as a lap swimmer. I always swim faster and more effortlessly when someone who is my equal, or even a little stronger, is swimming in the lane next to me—even if it is a stranger. I draw energy from him or her and push myself a little harder in the presence of another athlete—even when no one is trying to win. Brown suggests the same can be true for women at work. If we can find fun and regeneration in competing with one another instead of against one another, we can find energy and enjoyment in encouraging one another to do our best and celebrate one another’s accomplishments. Brown suggests that we can shift our mind-sets about competing with other women to win-win by taking these steps:

  1. Become aware of the structural way organizations set up women in a win-lose mind-set against each other when there are few women in senior leadership positions.
  2. Notice your own thoughts and beliefs about competition with or against yourself or other women.
  3. Connect with and focus on your own strengths, instead of comparing yourself to others. Channel your energy into growing and leveraging your strengths.
  4. Support other women in a caring and genuine way, and openly celebrate their successes.
  5. Talk with other women about the benefits of encouraging one another to do their best. Agree to support and celebrate one another.
Try these win-win mind-sets and let me know in the comments section if you notice any changes in your energy and relationships at work. I believe that even with “so few women at the top,” supporting one another and competing with instead of against one another can result not only in our own individual successes but in changes in the cultures of our organizations, thus resulting in more women at the top. Photo Credit: Business Forward at Flickr.com]]>

A Road Map to Gender Equity: Women in the Workplace 2016 Report

A new study by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey finds little progress in advancement for women in the largest companies. This study of 132 companies employing 4.6 million people includes a review of the pipeline data of the companies, a survey of HR practices, and surveys of 34,000 employees about attitudes on gender, job satisfaction, ambition, and work-life issues.

Key Findings: The Current State

First, let’s take a look at key findings from the study:
  • Women remain underrepresented at every level. For every 100 women promoted to manager, 130 men are promoted. This disparity begins early and grows larger with only 20 percent of SVP roles held by women, which results in very few women in line to become CEO.
  • Women of color face many more challenges with access to opportunity, including sponsorship, than do white women.
  • Women negotiate for promotions and raises as often as men but receive more negative feedback than men when they do.
  • Women ask for feedback as often as men but are less likely to receive it and get less access to senior leaders and sponsorship.

A Road Map to Gender Equity

The LeanIn.Org/McKinsey report offers a practical road map for how leaders can speed the rate of progress in achieving gender equity and inclusion:
  1. Communicate a compelling business case using data and stories about why gender diversity is good for the company. Senior leaders need to talk openly about the value of gender diversity and model their commitment to gender equity. Transparency through disclosure of gender metrics to employees will also demonstrate leadership’s seriousness about the issue.
  2. Ensure that hiring, promotions, and reviews are fair. This is challenging because of unconscious bias. Numerous studies show that women receive harsher and more personal judgments in reviews than men. Practices such as requiring diverse slates of candidates for internal and external hires, conducting blind resume reviews, applying clear and consistent criteria for performance reviews, and carrying out third party reviews of performance feedback to ensure fairness are all actions that can increase gender (and other) diversity.
  3. Invest in management and employee training in awareness of implicit bias for hiring and performance reviews. Managers also need training in recognizing and challenging inappropriate gender-based language and behavior and recognizing and offsetting the double-binds that women often face in the workplace—such as receiving negative feedback when asking for raises or promotions.
  4. Focus on accountability and results. I have often seen companies espouse a commitment to valuing gender diversity but refuse to hold senior leaders accountable for performance against gender metrics. Almost without fail, no change occurs when there is no accountability for senior leaders. It is also important to track salary differences by gender and to set targets so that progress can be measured.
Numerous studies show the benefits of gender diversity, but statistics from studies or one-time training sessions won’t bring about change unless the leaders of organizations invest in changing the cultures—including changes in attitudes, awareness of implicit bias, and changes in policies and procedures—of their organizations. The road map above shows the way forward for leaders. What successes have you seen and what worked? Please share your stories.   Photo Credit: Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net  ]]>

How Female Scientists Are Fighting to Be Heard

Not long ago, a prominent neuroscientist noticed an announcement for an upcoming neuroscience conference. Apoorva Mandavilli of the New York Times reports that this scientist, Dr. Yael Niv of Princeton University, also noticed that “none of the twenty-one speakers were women.” She was upset because she had been pushing for greater inclusion of women scientists as speakers at conferences for years. To top it off, the organizers of this conference were women. This event pushed Dr. Niv and about twenty of her women colleagues to take stronger action to create change. Why is it important for women to be included as speakers? Mandavilli cites Dr. Niv as explaining, “Being invited to speak on panels is more than a matter of prestige; it’s how your peers come to know who you are. When you are not known in science, your papers are less likely to be accepted. . . . [and] your grants are less likely to be funded.” In other words, it’s a matter of professional survival. I wrote in a previous article about this same challenge for female microbiologists and the importance of being invited to speak at major professional meetings for career advancement. Invitations to speak at major professional meetings are used by faculty promotion and tenure committees as evidence of external recognition and are critical to advancement decisions. The female microbiologists successfully utilized a strategy that may now work for their neuroscience sisters: they used data to bring pressure on conference organizers. In this same vein, Dr. Niv and about twenty other female neuroscientists conducted a study of more than sixty conferences in various areas of neuroscience and have posted the gender ratios of speakers to raise awareness of the problem. In the most-egregious-offender category, just eleven women compared with 213 men were speakers at thirteen of the conferences. Dr. Niv and her colleagues believe that the lack of opportunity for women to be conference speakers is the result of implicit bias. These women are brain scientists, after all, and they understand a lot about the ways people make decisions. We are often unaware of the ways that stereotypes and biases influence our decisions. For this reason, Dr. Niv and her colleagues started a website, BiasWatchNeuro, where they publish the numbers of female speakers at conferences. The website may go a long way toward helping conference organizers make more conscious decisions about who they are inviting as speakers. We all have bias. If you think you’re immune, click on this link and take some of the implicit bias tests from Harvard University. They may open your eyes. They opened mine! If you take any of the tests and are surprised by the results, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section.   The image in this post is in the public domain courtesy of Fotoshop Tofs.]]>

How Sexism and Racism Can Be Harmful to Your Health

Sexism and racism are two forms of systemic injustice where people are treated unfairly by a network of social institutions because they belong to a certain social-identity group. For example, much has been written about the gender-pay gap and obstacles to promotion for women in many fields. In addition, the Black Lives Matter movement has raised our awareness of the higher rates of incarceration and killing of African Americans by police and the judicial system than is true for Whites. Gender and race are not the only social-identity categories where discrimination occurs, of course. Let’s take a look at some recent studies on how sexism and racism can be harmful to our health. (Be aware that these findings probably apply to other marginalized groups, such as the LGBTQIA community, as well.) One example of sexism is the barrier for women in certain fields, such as engineering and construction, that reduce the number of women in these professions. Jenny Kutner reports that a new study by researchers at Indiana University found that token women—defined as having 15 percent or fewer female colleagues in male-dominated industries—experienced “abnormally high stress levels.” Specifically, the researchers found that being exposed to stressors such as lower pay, isolation and invisibility, obstacles to promotion, and sexual harassment causes “irregular patterns of cortisol, the hormone that regulates stress.” Token women, the researchers explain, “exhibit more unhealthy cortisol fluctuations throughout the day than do their male counterparts or women who worked in offices with a more balanced gender ration.” Kutner notes that the fluctuating cortisol levels of the token women in the study are the same sort of hormone irregularity associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and can have lasting repercussions on health and well-being. Another example of sexism is the objectification of women and girls that can begin in adolescence or earlier and continue through adulthood. Objectification includes (but is not limited to) the following:

  • Leering by men who may be colleagues, acquaintances, or strangers
  • Catcalls of a sexual nature on the street from strangers
  • Groping and flashing by men that can start when girls are quite young
  • Online sexual harassment
Jessica Valenti of the New York Times reports on research showing that these examples of “the ways women and girls are looked at and dehumanized” affect their mental health, sense of self, and sense of safety. Acts of objectification are microaggressions—small moments of being diminished or demeaned—that add up. These are not to be confused with macroaggressions like rape and other forms of sexual violence, but nonetheless they are harmful in the long run for girls and women. The psychological toll of racism and the resulting daily cost of micro- and macroaggression is an old story for black people in our country. Jenna Wortham writes that the killings of black women and men by police officers recorded on cameras and made public—including the recent killings of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, and Korryn Gaines—have produced “rage and mourning and angst that . . . eats you alive with its relentlessness . . . and leaves you feeling helpless.” She explains that the resulting traumatic stress response for many African Americans makes them physically sick with rashes, depression, insomnia, and emotional exhaustion. As a white person, I’ve been upset by these killings and incarceration rates, but I realize that I do not feel the same fear and trauma as my African American friends and colleagues—I do not think the police are going to arrest me or shoot me because of the color of my skin, which is a reality for them. What can we do? One thing that matters a lot is to listen to each other to understand the impact of racism and sexism—men can listen to women, whites can listen to people of color—and take whatever action we can together to change the systems that damage our health and our lives. It will take all of us to change these deeply rooted systems. Do you have stories of people from different social backgrounds coming together to address systemic injustice? If so, please let me know in the comments.   The image in this post is courtesy of businessforward (CC BY-SA 2.0).    ]]>