Women’s Day!

International Women’s Day was last Thursday, the 8th of March.  All across the world people celebrated the day.  Worldwide, there are rallies and women get a day off from work.  Many of my friends from around the world wished me a “Happy Women’s Day!”

An LA Times article stated that other countries celebrate Women’s Day even more than the United States. For example, the United Kingdom has about 450 events for Women’s Day, while the U.S. has about 253 events, according to the official International Women’s Day website. Oh, and, I also learned that women in Afghanistan received their own internet cafe.

A "Happy Women's Day" Card I got from an international friend!

Though it is a day to celebrate womanhood and the advances that women have made over the years, it is also important to reflect how far women still have to go to gain equality.

In a Women and Development class that I am taking at Wellesley, we were assigned a book by Susan Bourque and Kay Warren, “Women of the Andes.”  The book compares the social influence, or power, that various women in the Andes region have. Discussing some points brought up in the book, my classmates and I started questioning how much development really provided benefits to these rural women and discovered there is no right answer to that question.

Though development can give women better working conditions and a sense of empowerment, they are still exploited and barred from various jobs. Where in the past, at least they could barter for their livelihood with other good or livestock…now they are constrained by money. This makes me question, how much has women’s status in society actually improved?  What are the right steps to improve women’s situation internationally; especially in rural, developing areas?

I think a lot of the problem stems from the fact that there is a male bias in our histories.  If men, historically, are taught that they should be doing this “manly” work and know their male ancestors did it in the past, then they have no incentive to change.  Gender schemas will continue to persist.

We need to find a way to change the way we think about women historically.  Women’s histories need to be included in our textbooks and celebrated as equally important as well. If girls and teens hear historical accounts of women in their culture’s past, they are more likely to see themselves as also significant.

In conclusion, there is still a long way to go for women.  And even though I am glad women get a day to celebrate, I wish that we could say that every day was Women’s Day.

P.S. Do you think development is better for women in developing countries? Should we include stories of women’s histories in our history textbooks? Or are they just not as important as learning about the men who had most of the roles of authority?

Women and the Oscars

I read this great article in the Huffington Post that reviewed women and the Oscars and wanted to share it with you all. It really made me think about how women are not well represented in the film industry.  Even the movie montage at the beginning of the Oscars represented how women play a subordinate role in the movie industry. The author of the article, Tara Sophia, says:

“Then came a stream of 25 clips showing male heroes talking to, leading or fighting other men. In the middle were a few women, one screaming in stress about her wedding, one screaming because she was being attacked and one screaming to fake an orgasm.”

And with that, the montage ended.”

"I'll have what she is having." Image from the famous scene in When Harry Met Sally after she jokingly fakes an orgasm to prove a point. Nora Ephron, Wellesley Alum '62, wrote this movie and many other popular films. Though it is a hilarious film, it is a strange clip to include in the movie montage.

I would really recommend you read the rest of the article for interesting insights into the entire Oscar process and how it relates to women! Though there are positive role models in the industry (like Meryl Streep!) we need to encourage that the women they play are also strong, positive role models.

It really makes me think about how society can be so effected by the images that we constantly see in society.  If ad campaigns that consist of just an image or a 30 second ad can influence us heuristically to buy a certain product or vote for a candidate, then think about the effects of a feature-length movie!  For many of us, movies can be inspirational and we can relate on a deep level with well-developed characters.  We see over and over again men being the main protagonists of movies, while women play a background role as romantic interests or someone for the man to save. The repetition of these images creates gender norms and schemas that are difficult to break once formed (I’m taking a social psych class which may be guiding my discussion here! haha). But anyways, if we want there to be a more positive view of women, the movie industry is going to need to make a change.

P.S. Do you think more women should be included on the Oscar board?  Do you think there is a need for a change in the way women characters are portrayed in movies in general?

Just as a another side-note, a film co-produced by a Wellesley Alum, Fazeelat Azlam ’07, won an Oscar this year!  Her movie follows a British-Pakistani plastic surgeon’s journey to Pakistan and his work with survivors of acid attacks there.



Women in the World Summit: from Actresses and CEOs to Genocide Survivors and Disguised Politicians

I thought this article may be of interest to you guys! At the beginning of next month, the third annual Women in the World Summit will be held in NYC and hosted by Newsweek and the Daily Beast.

The tagline introduction says:

“In less than a month, inspiring women leaders and activists from around the globe will descend on New York City to address the most urgent challenges facing women and girls. From brave dissidents who fueled the Arab Spring to outspoken advocates fighting domestic slavery; from CEOs to artists to political influencers, our third annual Women in the World Summit—now expanded to Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater—uses vivid journalistic storytelling to showcase women who are battling the status quo, picking up the pieces in the aftermath of war and shattering glass ceilings.”

What is interesting to me about this event is the diversity of women who will be presenting…and the diversity of talks that will be presented.  There really is something for everyone here. Soap opera producers will discuss how to use the media (and soap operas) to combat sexual violence. Wellesley Alumna Madeleine Albright, ’59 will talk with Angelina Jolie and a former genocide survivor about how civil wars effect women. But one of the most interesting talks that I would like to watch is a woman telling her story about how she dressed up as a man to become involved in politics in Afghanistan.

image from the Newsweek website, some women who will be speaking are pictured

These talks really get at the root of many of the problems with women, culture and society. If you can’t buy tickets to attend you can stream the event through the Daily Beast website.  I know I will be watching the live stream on the website!

P.S. This summit focuses on women telling their stories, which was also a focus of the Women in Public Service Institute.  Do you have a story about your difficulties being a woman? Or if you are a man, do you have any stories of women you know?

Speaking to Wellesley Academic Council: Summer Institute

I was recently asked to speak to Wellesley’s Academic Council about my experience at the Women in Public Service Colloquium that I wrote about in earlier posts.  My prompt was to tell the Board what I took away from the event.  I spoke about how incredibly inspiring hearing the stories of all of the powerful women–about how they overcame obstacles to get to where they are today.

But, what I told them that what I took most from the event was what happened during the 2-day training program (see previous blog posts).  I took the most out of the event when I was able to actively participate.  I also learned more when I heard stories of women with backgrounds who were distinctly different from my own. I learned that it was important to widen my focus more globally and have been interested in learning what I can do to improve the lives of women and young girls abroad.

The program changed my life…and the friendships that formed will last throughout my career….and this was just after two days! In fact, I even signed up this semester for a Political Science class at Wellesley taught by Professor Wasserspring called “Women and Development.” (most of the women at the event were from developing nations in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin-America)

Read the thoughts of Victoria Budson, Executive Director of the Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP) at Harvard Kennedy School, about the Summer Institute. I really liked her comment on why it was so important to have this two week program for women:

“It is a rare opportunity in life when a woman has two weeks to take a step back from her professional and familial responsibilities in order to focus on her own development as a leader.As women, it is harder for us to prioritize our own learning and to step away from the critical work we do for our institutions, organizations, countries, communities, and families.  This program, this time with other women leaders, this time to work on one’s own development is a rare and distinctive gift.”

I definitely thought of the two day training program as a gift…it was an opportunity to learn from other women and I received a new network of connections and friends.

I will be at Wellesley helping with the Summer Institute blogging and tweeting again…so I look forward to meeting many more women who I can learn and share ideas with women and public service!

P.S. As a woman, do you find (as Victoria Bundson says) that it is hard to prioritize your own learning over helping others and other duties? I know my mom has a hard time prioritizing taking time for herself over all of the priorities she has with her work and family!

Madeleine Albright: the SOTU and becoming a U.S. citizen

During her visit, Madeleine Albright talked to us Political Science majors the day after President Obama’s State of the Union address (did you know that Sec. Albright was a Political Science major at Wellesley?). Though she mainly discussed the United States’ role internationally, she also spoke about issues that went along with President Obama’s speech and even gave some thoughts on the SOTU directly.

It struck me how similar the topics were in both talks. One common area of discussion was China (which Secretary Albright gave her thoughts on after a question I asked her! — I asked where the most attention and assistance was needed for human rights, and she said that China should be a main country of focus).  Sec Albright talked about violations with labor practices — which President Obama also mentioned in the SOTU. The President made a pledge to look into unfair labor and trade practices in China.

A friend of mine, Khai Shaw (Wellesley ’12), asked Sec. Albright, “how do you balance representing U.S. interests with issues of international importance” the topic switched to more domestic issues (and then eventually to Albright’s time at Wellesley and advice on jobs, but I want to save that for another post!). Sec. Albright complimented President Obama, saying he had been doing a good job of balancing these interests.

Thinking about the SOTU address, I thought it was interesting how much Obama’s speech focused on domestic concerns like markets, energy, health, education, and the American Dream. I guess this makes sense with the election coming up…people want to know that the person they elect will focus on the issues closest to them… but back to Albright’s points! Election-talk can be a fun post later (yes, I consider talking about elections to be fun…).

The issue that I thought was most interesting was one where President Obama and Sec. Albright didn’t quite see eye-to-eye — illegal immigration.  Although she didn’t say it directly, I got the impression (now, remember, this is my own impression!) that she felt the President was a little too strict in his ideas about how to tackle illegal immigration. Secretary Albright discussed her journey as an U.S. immigrant and how difficult it was to become a citizen. Did you know that she was not a legal citizen until after her graduation from Wellesley? She told a hilarious story of her being nervous for the exam…luckily, as a political science major, she knew all about U.S. government  (Side note: the woman had a degree in political science and was nervous about taking the exam! Makes me wonder how may U.S. citizens born here would pass!)

Though Sec Albright did acknowledge problems with illegal immigration, she said she felt that we should have more (and easier!) opportunities for people to become citizens of the United States, rather than all of these harsh security measures. She also thought that some of the new laws dealing with immigration in the Border States were terrible, racist, and even embarrassing for our country.

Albright giving a separate, more intimate talk to just us Political Science majors!

I loved hearing such a candid talk from the Former Secretary of State.  I can’t wait to post some more thoughts on my favorite moments soon.

P.S. What issues do you think are most important right now…domestically or internationally? And do you think you know enough about U.S. government to pass the immigration exam? I would like to think that I would easily pass being a PoliSci major, but some of these sample questions are not so easy…

Only at Wellesley: If you give Madeleine Albright a Sandwich…

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright ’59 who, as I mentioned, is on campus for an Institute that bears her name — visited the  on-campus sustainable food co-op El Table yesterday (By the way El Table used to be just a table by the elevator back in the day… that’s how it got its current name: El Table=Elevator Table, but I digress…) Secretary Albright worked at El Table when she was a student in the late 1950’s. Read the full story here in the Boston Globe. The El Table staff also named a sandwich after her, called the Madeleine All-bite. Cute!

Students who work at El T sign the walls — Secretary Albright added her’s! Here is a picture her signature that is now on the wall!

Photo Cred: Karin Robinson

Yeah, this is why I love going to school here. Oh, and not to forget, Albright also gave an amazing talk yesterday on the state of the United Nations AND spoke with political science majors (I am one of them!) over breakfast this morning.  She is awesome.  Look for my post in a bit about my reflections of her talk today.

P.S. Food for thought: What ingredients would you have in a sandwich named after you?  I actually have an “un-official” sandwich with my friends at El T (I keep on trying to get my friends to name it after me, but I am not Madeleine Albright).  My sandwich would be on ciabatta bread with turkey, brie, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, and pesto.  It is amazing, if I do say so myself. :)

Madeleine Albright at Wellesley!

Yesterday was the Anniversary of Madeleine Albright’s swearing in as Secretary of State (Jan. 23, 2007)! It seems fitting then that she would come to her Alma Mater (Wellesley) the next day to encourage a new generation of students to pursue their dreams. The event starts at 4:00 this afternoon at Wellesley’s Alumnae Hall. Madeleine Albright will be joined by James D. Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank, to answer the prompt: “Is the UN Dream Dead? International Organizations and the Challenges of Change.”

I will be attending the event, and I am sure most of my Wellesley sisters will be too! Look for my twitter feed for live updates and a blog post later about the event.

To learn more, you can see mentions of the event in the Boston Globe and Wellesley Townsman.

P.S. Hope to see you there! And if you are and want to tweet about it, the hashtag is #mkai

Women in Politics are Role Models!

For the past few weeks I have been living at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and have been taking a political science class there over winter break.  That is one of the awesome things about Wellesley; that we can cross-register with a ton of other local colleges and experience other learning environments.  MIT, Babson, Olin and Brandeis are the easiest to cross register with because they are considered our “brother” schools, but some friends have taken classes at Harvard too.  Though I think Wellesley classes are still my favorite, I love being so close to Boston where there are so many colleges and other students I can meet . Some of my best friends go to MIT and Harvard.

But I am getting away from what I wanted to post today!

I wanted to share with everyone this recent, fascinating study that posits that women politicians are especially influential as role models to young women.

Over 8,000 Indian adolescents and parents were surveyed in West Bengal, India, where one-third of prahan positions are reserved for women .  The study discovered that women who became heads of their prahan, or leader of a village council, serve as role models which helps to raise the “career aspirations and educational performance” of young women.    Esther Duflo, an MIT professor who headed the study says that “seeing women in charge persuaded parents and teens that women can run things, and increased their ambitions.”  This had the effect of erasing the gender gap that usually works in favor of men.

Click here for the full report.  This is the news article from MIT about the study.

Graphic: Christine Daniloff

I think this goes along really well the idea of mentoring I mentioned earlier.  If young women have someone they can look up to–who guides her and lets her know about the opportunities available to her–she is more likely to not fear the gender gap.  Though this report looks at India, I think the same concept can be applied to the U.S.  I actually have written about this in class: once more women become involved in politics, young women will start to see this as a norm and not an exception.  Women, today, often think they are not qualified for office because they do not see many women running, and they frequently decide to not run simply because they are afraid it is only a man’s job.  But if young women see women role models in office and gain confidence in their qualifications, it will be a snowball effect of more women deciding to run. I hope that women see this study, take it seriously, and try to be more involved in politics!

P.S. What are your thoughts on women politicians as role models?  When I think to our country’s women politicians, many pop into mind (Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright from Wellesley!!!) who are role models to me.  However, I wouldn’t consider all current women politicians as my role models.  What do women in politics need to convey to young women to be positive role models?

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits

I know you were wondering…here is where the pantsuits (as in the title of this blog) come into play.

For my Wellesley seminar class on “persuasive images” in media, I just did a research project on how a woman’s presentation through campaign ads, photographs, banners, and personal style shapes her campaign and thus, voter’s opinions.  I focused on Secretary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign for this analysis (and I ended up getting an A on the project!!! woohoo).

There are numerous studies on how appearance in general matters in politics, and it is obvious why.  But a woman’s style and appearance has become especially crucial for women when running for political office. And Secretary Clinton is known for her distinct style accessory: the pantsuit.  We have seen her wear pantsuits in almost every style and color.  But it is interesting if you look at this style further.

When running in 2008, Secretary Clinton’s first campaign strategy was to present her as gender-neutral—to focus on her skills and experience, rather than bring direct attention to her gender. A pantsuit for a woman (as compared to a skirt or dress) makes sense to show a gender neutral appearance.  Secretary Clinton’s pantsuits were interesting too because of how many colors and styles she had, and those colors would be carefully selected depending on the message that needed to be portrayed.  For example, she would wear pastels when her campaign wanted to soften her image and make it more feminine. And when there was an upset in the campaign (like not receiving the democratic nomination), she wore colors that were cheery and bright, like a bright orange! Her jewelry and makeup are always simple and understated. They do not draw attention too much to the jewelry or to her femininity.

Naturally, in preparation for the State Department Initiative, this inspired me to get a new business-attire outfit for the inaugural Women in Public Service Project event. I decided that a pant suit was best because we wanted to be a part of the “Sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits” that Secretary Clinton has championed.

But what type of pant suit is appropriate for a young (almost) college graduate.  I decided that I wanted to look for something that was a little different, something that fit my personality.  No simple black suit for me! I decided that I would look for something that represents me being young and feminine… a fresh, young take on the traditional black style.  The picture above shows the outfit pretty well.  I found a pink blazer at Urban Oufitters.  And some classic black trouser pants from White House/ Black Market.  I wore a cream silk camisole from Club Monaco (couldn’t find the pic).  The shoes are probably my favorite though.  I got a pair of “lizard-stamped” black wedges from Ann Taylor.  They are amazing and match the lizard-printed leather on my tote/ briefcase bag. My jewelry I kept simple.  I am wearing my Wellesley necklace and ring. I think my outfit looks pretty similar to Secretary Clinton’s (below) don’t you?

P.S. What are your opinions of women’s professional fashion?  What is your favorite professional outfit? (Please comment because I need ideas for when I start a job in the real world!)

Mentoring: Personal Experience

I mentioned before how mentorship was a huge topic.  I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but this topic is so interesting to me because I have had some great mentors…so I want to mention it again.  Professors at Wellesley, coordinators at jobs, family, and even fellow students have all acted as mentors and have helped shape who I am today.

One particularly influential mentor was a former boss, the Executive Director (Priti Rao), of the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus (MWPC) where I worked as an intern.  The MWPC’s  mission is to increase the number of women elected to public office and appointed to public policy positions.  Priti took me under her wing and gave me advice about everything from strategies for fundraising to what to expect when I studied abroad the next year (she even told me some great stories from her adventures!).  What I appreciated most was how she trusted me as an intern and gave me responsibility, so I felt like I was contributing to the organization. She helped me identify my strengths and weaknesses; specifically, that I like to work with people, organize events, write press releases, and fundraise.  She introduced me to women who were professionals on the board of the MWPC  and invited me to attend young professionals events.  Through meeting these women at the events, I was able to learn about a variety of jobs and discovered PR, the career I would like to have. Without her guidance, I would still feel lost about my aspirations.

Her mentoring and encouragement gave me the confidence to pursue other goals–which is why I think being a mentor is a goal all women (and men too!) should have.

P.S. Who has been a mentor in your life?

Priti Rao
There I am on the left and Priti Rao is in the middle.