Category Archives: Grad School

The One Where I Geek Out about Title IX

So, I know it has been absolutely forever since I wrote a post, but I’m back because I finally feel like I have the brain space to write and a topic I’m psyched to tell you all about!  Last week, on Tuesday, June 23rd, the White  House held a roundtable discussion to celebrate the 37th anniversary of Title IX and through a lucky convergence of events, I was able to attend the celebration!  I’ve been fairly obsessed with Title IX since I wrote my senior thesis about it in college, so I was RIDICULOUSLY excited to get to go to the White House event for it!  As it turns out, the roundtable also is a perfect excuse share some thoughts on why I am so in love with Title IX.

For all of you who aren’t Title IX geeks like me, Title IX is Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments and it states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  It is most famous for getting women and girls into sports, but we also have Title IX to thank for removing admissions barriers in higher education (for getting more women into college), barring discrimination against women teachers, administrators, and professors, and prohibiting sex discrimination in schools.

(Above: The video of the event).

So, back to the event.  It was nice to get to go to an event for something where I got to do all that and get to feel pretty jazzed and emotional about the topic at hand!  Here are a few of the event highlights:

  • It was in the OEOB.  I’m kind of a nerd and I always wanted to go to the OEOB.  Unfortunately, my efforts to snag a souvenir OEOB appointment badge failed miserably.
  • Birch Bayh, the former Senator from Indiana, who sponsored Title IX back in 1972 was there.  I didn’t realize he was still alive, so that was pretty cool.  In his brief remarks, he seemed to care very deeply about Title IX and that was cool to see.  I wrote a lot about Senator Bayh when I was doing my thesis and I always thought of him fondly from the way he came off as I read hearings from the 1970s, so it was cool to see that he actually was a good match for how I imagined him!
  • Billie Jean King was also there and that was very cool.  It’s hard to be a woman who likes sports and not think Billie Jean King is pretty awesome.  She was pretty emotional about how much Title IX meant to her and actually seemed glassy-eyed at times, so that was quite touching.  I also want to share this BJK quote, “Nerds rule!  I love nerds the best.  They’re smart and fun!”  Nothing says we should keep educating women at the highest levels and get them into science, technology, math, and engineering fields quite like that!
  • Dominique Dawes is absolutely jacked.  I felt out of shape just looking at her.  Though, I am out of shape so maybe I just felt out of shape from being out of shape.
  • Russlyn Ali, who is in charge of the Office of Civil Rights, our friends over at the Department of Education who enforce Title IX, really encouraged people to bring Title IX complaints and she talked a lot about how they want to vigorously enforce Title IX.  Fun to hear that after the Bush years!  WOO!

I took some notes on the whole event with the intention of writing a blog post that would basically be a recap, but now that I am writing and the whole thing is on YouTube, I feel like I would rather write a bit about why I care so damn much about Title IX.

The whole time I was sitting at the OEOB listening to all the amazing speakers talk about Title IX, I could not help but reflect on my own feelings about the law.  I first got interested in Title IX one summer during college, it must have been the summer of 2002 (the 30th anniversary of Title IX) when ESPN was showing all kinds of specials about Title IX and when I was trying to think of things that could be fun thesis topics.  I remember talking to one of my professors about how I wanted to write about how women’s sports and Title IX were not killing men’s sports, and my professor encouraged me to instead write about why we only talk about Title IX and its impact on sports.  What about its promise for women in education?   In retrospect, that might have been one of the more important questions someone has ever asked me.  I ended up answering that question in my thesis (we focus more on sports because the discussion about Title IX sports focuses on gender differences than the discussion about education and Title IX).  The question also prompted what I think will be a long and fulfilling relationship between me and Title IX research.

Since that project forced me to learn all about the broad applications of Title IX, I really gained an appreciation for how much Title IX has made me what I am.  At this point, it’s pretty clear that I am going to be in school forever, ideally earning a PhD and becoming an academic and I’ve been playing sports ever since I was old enough to wear a hat that was way too big for my head and hit a ball off a T.   I remember reading about Title IX and realizing how much my generation took for granted.  Before the law, colleges had quotas for how many women they could accept, textbooks were packed with sex stereotypes, women scientists had their experiments sabotaged, and women’s sports received little support.  It just blows my mind to think about that.  Where would I be if I couldn’t have completed something like 18 years of education?  What would I have studied?  What would I have done with all my free time instead of playing field hockey or soccer or running or ultimate frisbee?  I just literally I have no idea what I would be doing as I feel like my life has so often been defined by my need to learn and research and my love of sports.  It’s crazy to think that if I had been doing all of this like 37 years earlier I might be a totally different person.

I’ve still been writing about Title IX, most recently on the Bush Administration’s regulations that allow for single sex education under Title IX (we need to revoke those, by the way).  I also feel fairly certain that once I start a PhD program, I want to write my dissertation on the subject.   So, I thought that this White House event was the perfect opportunity to talk a little bit about why I care about Title IX since it’s something I plan to continue to work on for quite some time!

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This is the First Time I’ve Been Cited as an Expert in the Press

Check out my comments on why women are underrepresented in student government in the GW Hatchet.

http://media.www.gwhatchet.com/media/storage/paper332/news/2009/02/19/News/Sa.Election.Guide.Few.Females.Earn.Top.Spot-3638628.shtml

It’s exciting!

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It’s a Post about Academic Theory and Outrage!

As part of my morning routine, I always watch CNN while trying to will myself out of bed and this morning I was reminded of a story that’s been making my head want to explode.  Last week a story came out that Georgia Republicans are trying to ban “sex courses” (I love their use of scare quotes!) like queer theory.  Here’s the thing, I love queer theory and school, so this is the kind of thing I can really get going about.  Here’s a list of everything that is absolutely outrageous about this policy:

1) The press, I’m looking at you CNN, has embraced this language of “steamy sex courses” to describe queer theory.  Have any of these people ever,  you know, picked up a book?  It’s like they want you to believe that queer theory is a guide for how to have gay sex.  It is not.  It IS compromised of many awesome theories about how to see gender and gender identity as socially constructed.  It asks us to think way outside of the box and move beyond thinking of gender and binaries.  And my personal favorite part, is that it is actually very inclusive in mind, because it pushes for an understanding of gender that allows for a diverse array of gender identities and sexualities.  It challenges people to think in new ways and that is never a bad thing.

(I know, you’re so pumped about this theory now that you want to know where you can read more.  I’d suggest starting with Gender Trouble by Judith Butler.  It will blow your mind!)

2) Here’s what’s cool about academia, if you don’t agree with a theory, such as queer theory, no one is saying you can’t argue against it, you just have to do it on solid academic grounding.  I realize queer theory is pretty radical and some people are going to disagree with it, but to those people I say, why don’t you read some queer theory, do some reasearch, and give me a well-thought out position against it.  Just banning the teaching of ideas is a totally insane way to discredit an entire field of solid academic work.  Also, I’m pretty sure queer theory could come out on top in this academic debate!

3) “Our job is to educate our people in sciences, business, math,” said Calvin Hill, a vice chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee. He said professors aren’t going to meet those needs “by teaching a class in queer theory.”

This kind of narrow-minded thinking is a huge part of the problem.  It’s upsetting that those legislators cannot see that maybe there are some flawed assumptions in how those subjects are taught and embracing new theories like queer theory, feminist theory, etc. could help provide better understandings in all of those fields that would result in greater knowledge and improved policies based on that knowledge.

By the way, for anyone keeping track out there, I like the way this guy mentions that the purpose of education is limited to science, business, and math, 3 of the most gendered, male-heavy fields I can think of.  Are we also not responsible for teaching people about English, history, social sciences, the humanities, etc?  I feel like there’s a dangerous undercurrent in this that says education is only legit if it focuses on fields that have been traditionally associated with reinforcing a system that overwhelmingly privileges white, heterosexual males.  This is key, because banning queer theory could be a slippery slope.  What’s next?

4) I think there’s also a Title IX argument to be made here.  For those of you who are not obsessed with Title IX like I am, Title IX states,”No person in the United States shall on the basis of sex, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”   The law covers all areas of education and all programs at institutes of higher education.  While this has not yet been tested in court and policy recommendations do not yet exist on the issue, I would argue that banning the teaching of queer theory (or feminist theory or whatever else conservatives decide they don’t like) could be considered a form of gender discrimination.  I know if GW (where I am currently a student), decided to up and ban the women’s studies program, I would feel as though I was being discriminated against for wanting to learn more about issues related to my gender.

OK, I feel better having gotten that out!

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A Moment of Appreciation

I’m going to do something a little different today.  Instead of ranting about something or taking a nerdy trip into theory stuff that I think is cool, I wanted to take a moment to highlight the awesomeness of my feminist workplace.  Though,  they say you should never write about your employer on blogs, I’m going to go ahead and break that rule because, really, I have only the best things to say about them.  I work at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in lovely (ah, heat and humidity…) Washington, DC.  I’ve been here for about 2 years and I’ve pretty much loved it from the start because IWPR is so perfect for me (we research women’s issues after all!), but lately I’ve learned to love it a little more.  Here’s what’s so great about us and why other people could learn a little from a feminist workplace!

1) My co-workers are all pretty much amazing.  By now, I feel like I have worked in a few places and I’m consistently amazed  by how much the people at work genuinely like each other and are interested in each other.  I feel like I have made a lot of good friends here (in fact, I would call everyone I work with a friend) and I have had some amazing mentors at my disposal.  As someone who is looking to get a Ph.D. and do this kind of work myself, it is great to have many role models around who can give me ideas and help me think through the whole process.  I know that this sounds pretty standard, but I think there’s something different about working here, which is that everyone really takes care of each other.  As I have been on crutches in the last week or two, pretty much everyone here has offered to help in some way or another, but most notably, my two bosses, our President and Vice President, have gone above and beyond by not simply sending get well flowers.  One of them has been willing to drive me up to Baltimore for my post-op appointment (she also stopped by with candy and trashy magazines) and the other has been shuttling me back and forth to work each day and grabbing lunch for me on a daily basis.  I feel like it’s rare to have people go that out of the way for someone else, and even more rare when it is your boss!  Obviously, I love them both for all of their help (and everyone else here too).  I don’t know if it is because IWPR is almost entirely female or what, but it does feel like  a little family who really cares for one another, which seems incredibly cool in this day and age!

2) IWPR also leads by example in that we have all kinds of leave policies that have helped me with my surgery (and others with surgeries, adoptions, births, etc).  We provide some paid family and medical leave, I think on a temporary disability-type model, which has been great.  Just before surgery I was worried I would not have enough sick days, when I learned I had access to this paid leave, which my boss so awesomely referred to as “secret sick days.”  There’s no doubt in my mind that those days helped with my recovery when I was spending 6 hours a day in my machine, needing a lot of help, and resting up.  I also went into surgery physically and mentally burnt out, so having time to recover without having to rush back was great!  I know a lot of friends and others who could only get access to unpaid leave or one bank of leave days (vacation and sick days together) so I feel lucky to have been able to take sick days worry free and to still have time for my vacation to see my actual family in Vermont and much of my Williams/Boston family up in Boston later this summer.

3) This has nothing to do with my hip or anything, but IWPR also has a deal with GWU that lets me (and some others here) work full-time and go to GW for free.  I’ve been taking advantage of that to get my Masters so I will be a totally kick ass Ph.D. candidate when the time comes.
So, all in all, we rule.  While I don’t always love DC and while this job definitely stresses me out at times, it is really, really nice to come to work each day with awesome, caring people, which is why I’m sure I will be here for a while!

An Additional Shout-Out to Sisters and Moms

I also want to mention that during all of this my sister and my mother have been absolutely amazing as well.  My sister recently moved to DC and had some time before her new job started, so she has been playing caretaker to me for the last 3 weeks (and she and my mom shared the duty during week 1).  I’m not quite sure how I would have done this without either of them since all of my “precautions” mean I can’t walk, bend, stand in the shower, cook, do my own laundry, etc.  I’ve needed some fairly serious help!  When my mom was around she made some great charts to help me keep track of my meds and managed to do a great job dealing with me even though I was tired, crabby, and vomitting like crazy right when we got home from the hospital.  My sister has also stepped up big.  As she has done all of the following things for me: cooked me dinner basically every night, scrubbed my legs and back for me in the shower since I can’t reach, picked up stuff for me, moved stuff around my house for me, changed dvd’s, played games with me, helped with laundry, helped me organize and clean out my closet, and even moved a dresser for me (revealing that she is a saint and I am the idiot who decides to move and organize a dresser when on crutches- I was so bored I needed a project, what can I say).  She has also come up big in the trashy magazine department supplying me with People and US Weekly as necessary!

And on that note, I’ll end and say it’s going to be a bummer going back to normal.  It’s amazing how a good pampering will make you a happier, more relaxed person.  It’ll be hard to wean myself off of it; in fact, it already is!

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A Question to Ponder and a Report to Check Out

I’m reading through the headlines as I usually do at lunch, and I was just struck by a question, “If Hillary Clinton was a man, would people be so insistent that she needs to drop out of the election?”  I can’t help but feel like people would not be giving her so much crap.  I’m just thinking aloud here, but it seems like when male candidates stay in the race, even when they don’t have much of a shot, people tend to praise them for fighting on and raising tough issues that would not be discussed otherwise.  It seems like Hillary is starting to talk about less mainstream issues, such as sexism on the campaign trail, but maybe she started talking about those issues too late?  Or maybe people are so pissed she is still around because they are disappointed in the way she stooped to race-baiting and picking petty arguments instead of running on issues or using the opportunity to really address gender discrimination?  I know I am still bothered by that.  Or maybe people want her to leave because she’s now talking about issues like sexism and people don’t want to hear about sexism?  I think it’s interesting to consider the underlying issues when people urge Clinton to drop out.  What’s really going on here?  My suspicion is that more is at play than concern over party unity and I think it’s important to be explicit about those issues.  I could understand if people are pissed about the campaign Clinton has run or are concerned about the party, but it would certainly be very troubling if people just want her out because she’s a woman or be cause she’s confronting sexism.

On another note, many papers today are running a story that the boy crisis in education does not exist.  Those stories are based on a new report by the American Association of University Women entitled Where the Girls Are. The report explains that most of the disparities found in education are the result of socioeconomic status and family income.  I just went to the report release this morning, so I haven’t had a chance to read the full report yet, but I’d highly recommend people check it out.  The boy crisis scares the hell out of me because it has such an amazing potential to undermine all of the gains women have made in education (and sports) since the passage of Title IX in 1972.  As one of the speakers said this morning, schools should encourage people of various races, genders, classes, ethnicities, sexualities, etc to come together and learn from each other and promote respect.  It’s hard to believe that would happen in the segregated classrooms that people are once again promoting.  Moreover, the real world is co-ed, so it seems to make sense that children should be taught from the  youngest age possible that women and men are equal and each deserve respect.  So, I am glad AAUW’s work is helping us remain vigilant when it comes to issues of sexism in education.  While women have made many gains since the 1970s, it is clear there is much work to be done since women and men are still segregated by field and/or major and there is a real potential for a backslide.  Keeping up on this discussion is absolutely essential!  So, check out the report!  (Also, if you have time, check out AAUW’s Behind the Pay Gap, which explains that the wage gap shows up as early as one year out after college graduation).

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Everyone Wants to Inject Her and Listen to Jazz

A little more for you all on one of my heroines, the lovely and talented Tina Fey. She’s on the cover of Entertainment Weekly this week. Check out the story here.

Also, a few sort of unrelated musings on Ms. Fey. I’ve been wanting to write a full review of “MILF Island,” but with finals next week, time is pretty short. So, some thoughts on that, Baby Mama, and my paper on 30 Rock.

I’m currently writing a paper on the ways 30 Rock is able to use humor and satire to further a feminist project. In that paper, I argue that the brilliance of 30 Rock is that it consistently exposes the way that the media ignores real issues, such as gender discrimination, debates about issues, etc. in favor of lowest common denominator programming. In 30 Rock, this often means that Liz Lemon (Fey) is prevented from doing “topical” or feminist humor, in favor of idiotic sketches (one about a bear fighting a robot comes to mind) or sketches designed to promote products (like a sketch about the GE Trivection Oven). In Liz’s struggles with Jack (Alec Baldwin), the humor often comes from the way that Lemon fights Jack to raise real issues and the ways that she is consistently shot down. Most of what I liked about the MILF Island episode is that it overdid the notions of sexuality in reality programming to make Fey’s point that people would rather watch sensational stereotypes and melodrama than programming that could teach them something. It is clear that the network also prefers these shows because of their high ratings and low production costs. For me, the brilliance of this technique is that it consistently makes viewers question the ways that Fey has been limited in creating 30 Rock. While it is often spot on about real issues, it some times could be more feminist (for example, Liz could be less of a pathetic, single 30-something woman). By exposing the network forces at work, Fey gives people the tools they need to examine the ways gender operates in the media. All of this brilliant thinking going on in 30 Rock might also be why the show struggles in the ratings, but it is cool that Fey is telling you why the show struggles and makes viewers critically examine the choices the media makes. “MILF Island” is an episode I loved because it proves my point perfectly! If you’re interested in this idea, I’d recommend checking out a few episodes, “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Greenzo,” and “The C-Word.” All the episodes are available at NBC.com.

On an unrelated note, I want to put in a plug for Baby Mama, Fey’s new movie with Amy Poehler, due in theaters April 25. The movie which has been categorized as a female buddy pic (which are not at all common!) is about the wacky hijinks that ensue when Fey’s character, a succesful single business woman hires a working-class woman (Poehler) to act as a surrogate for her. While I am eager for a female comedy that does not some how involve pregnancy (not that I didn’t enjoy Juno or Knocked Up), I’m excited for a comedy with TWO female leads that in my mind, will likely make us laugh while also addressing some gender and class issues.

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Ah, the joy of school!

Recently, I was asked to write the intro column for my newsletter at work, so its for a pretty specific audience (IWPR members) so its a little more formal than I usually roll, but I like this as a piece about why I am pumped to be back in school. Enjoy!

“It’s the most wonderful time of year!” declared a popular office superstore commercial each August when I was a kid, delighting my mother, but sadly signaling the end of long, playful summer days for me. However, this fall, I could not help but cheerfully hum the tune to myself as I roamed around Target filling my cart with pens, pencils, notepads, and my personal favorite school supply, the academic year planner. The academic year was off to such a gleeful start because I was beginning graduate school part-time to pursue a Masters Degree in Public Policy with a Concentration in Women’s Studies. As a full-time employee at IWPR, my graduate education at The George Washington University (GWU) is fully funded thanks to IWPR’s ten year affiliation with the University. As a 25-year-old who is surrounded by friends who are desperately trying to pay off their undergraduate student loans, while in many cases, also taking out loans for graduate school, I truly appreciate this amazing financial benefit, but my love for the IWPR/GWU relationship goes deeper than that!

The most beneficial aspect of my status as both an IWPR staff member and a GWU student has been that this combination allows me to begin what I hope will be a long career in feminist research and public policy. When I joined IWPR, I knew I was interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in women’s studies and/or public policy or political science. I came to Washington with a great deal of political experience for someone my age. I majored in Political Science at Williams College; worked on three campaigns, including one I managed for a woman running for State Representative; worked in a private-sector lobbying firm; and served as a government relations staff member for a non-profit in Boston. Though I enjoyed each of these jobs, I wanted to embark on a career path that would most resemble, my senior thesis, entitled “Why Sports? The Congressional Debate about Gender Roles and Discrimination in Academics and Athletics.” As a result, I was overjoyed when IWPR provided me the opportunity to not only prepare for graduate school, but also to attend it!

In my first two semesters at GWU, I have been enrolled in four classes, Fundamentals of Feminist Theory, an introduction to the public policy process, Feminist Media Theory, and Mircoeconomics. Fundamentals of Feminist Theory convinced me that I definitely want to spend my life in feminist policy research. The class demanded intellectual engagement and rewarded creativity. I left the class feeling challenged to develop new ways of thinking about feminist theory that could fuel change for women in today’s world. My public policy class taught me how to develop my theoretical ideas into actual policies through strategic thinking about the policy process. Feminist Media Theory has been a treat because it has allowed me to think through ways that studying pop culture (one of my favorite hobbies) is also an important component of change. In that class, I am currently interested in the media coverage of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and a more “fun” project focused on the ways that humor, specifically feminist sitcoms such as 30 Rock, can be used as a feminist project. Economics has been truly beneficial in my work with Dr. Hartmann.

As I progress in the graduate program, I hope to develop a thesis project focused on addressing the issues of twenty-something women. I’ve been concerned about the unique issues that young women face as the twenties have become a time of “extended adolescence.” My project will hopefully address issues as they apply to young women such as student loans, high costs of living, employment issues such as the pay gap and job quality, physical and mental health issues (health care coverage, reproductive health), political engagement issues, and the challenges young women face in the media. While this is an ambitious project that requires further refinement, I’ve imagined modeling it on IWPR’s Status of Women in the States Reports. Perhaps it could be titled The Status of Young Women in America and conclude with policy recommendations for this often overlooked group. In addition to finishing up my Masters, I plan to apply to Ph.D. programs to further develop my interests in women’s studies and public policy. Ultimately, my work at IWPR and as a student at GWU has been truly beneficial for me and I’ll always thank IWPR for getting me started on my career as a feminist policy researcher.

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