Monday, August 20, 2012

Post Six


For my final blog post, in honor of the city I have fondly enjoyed for many summers in a row now, I am going to give a quick to DC. I will focus on the things I like to do as a resident, rather than the many tourist attractions.

Outdoor activities:

I really enjoy hiking, and there are a few excellent hikes not too far outside of the city (though they always require a car).

                Harper’s Ferry: This is a great hike. I had fairly low expectations when I arrived, because many large parks (particularly those with a tourist draw) overestimate the difficulty of their hikes. This was not the case here. We went on a 7-8 mile hike with probably the longest steep uphill I’ve done. And, as a bonus, the town has several museums and restaurants. People also enjoy this area for water sports. You can float down the river in tubes if you’d like.

                Old Rag Mountain: I hiked this mountain at the beginning of this year and seriously thought I might die. There is a short (~.5 mi.) rock scramble before the summit. During the winter, it was perilous, but it is supposed to be fun (but challenging) in the summer. It offers great views of the Shenandoah Valley, and will give you a good workout.

                Billy Goat trail (MD side): As this was my first real hike, it holds a special place in my heart. I was really nervous when I first saw pictures, because there is a section where you feel like you are rock climbing rather than hiking. Other than that section, though, the trail is pretty manageable. I’d say it’s a solid medium.

Restaurants/Bars:

    Haydee’s: Haydees in Columbia Heights offers great Mexican and Salvadoran options. I am especially fond of plantains and veggie fajitas. As for drinks, I love their margaritas. Most of the people I’ve gone with opt for the Cadillac margarita, but I prefer the option with double the tequila (the name is escaping me).

                Queen of Sheeba: I know there are a lot of Ethiopian options in DC, this Logan Circle/Shaw location is my favorite. The food is excellent and fairly cheap. I go here every time I’m in the city (including this Friday). Just go.

                Julia’s Empanadas: Julia’s has a few locations throughout the city. The empanadas are super yummy and very affordable. I also enjoy their small sides, particularly the beet salad and black beans.

                Pete's New Haven Style Apizza and 2Amy’s Pizza: Go to the first if you’re in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, and the Second if you’re closer to Woodley Park. The first is also better for takeout. The second has an excellent dine-in experience.

Classic DC:

            National Portrait Gallery courtyard: This is one of my favorite places in the whole city. I love to come here and read during the winter. They keep it warm, and there are refreshments available in the cafeteria. While you’re there, make sure to visit the American folk art museum. There is a very cool aluminum foil altar there.

            Jazz in the park: This only happens during the summer, which probably contributes to it being a pretty big draw. You get to hang out in the sculpture garden, and both beer and wine are allowed, which makes it even better. The atmosphere is relaxed, but it can be a little crowded.

Monument tour (but at night): Visiting the monuments is great no matter when you do it, but I recommend going at night, especially during the summer. It will be cooler, and there will be fewer people. And, since they’re all lit up at night, you can still get great pictures.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Post Five


This post is about how to talk to others about women’s (or race, or sexual orientation) issues.

For the past couple of weeks, my brother has been visiting from California (where my family lives)/Arizona (where he goes to college). My brother is a great guy and one of my best friends. He also gets on my nerves like no one else can. Unfortunately, I do not get to see him as often as I would like, and it has been a long time (I cannot even remember when) since we have spent more than a few days together. It has also been a long time since we have had the chance to really talk to one another. By really talk, I mean doing more than trying to catch one another up on the goings on in our lives.

But, for the past couple of weeks, I have had the chance to do just that, and I have stumbled upon something that is hard to talk to him about: women’s issues. More than once since he has been here, my brother has made sweeping statements about “women.” It started when we were on a run, and I was telling him about two women who were murdered while through hiking the Appalachian Trial. I was upset that (of course) it was two women who were attacked; he focused on the women’s decision to go out on the trail alone. He kept talking, and it began to sound more and more like victim blaming. It turned into an argument about how women wildly overestimate their strength/ability to defend themselves. It has happened a few times since with him. Recently, he said something about “all women” being chocolate crazy. I know this is different than the first offense (and a little silly), but it is not good. Why the gender stereotyping? Why pathologize women’s preferences?

So, I went about trying to talk to him about why I found some of the things he said about women offensive and wrong. To my surprise, he would not engage. He just kept repeating: I’m not a misogynist. I know that he is not. With some exceptions, he is pretty good. As I said before, he is generally a culturally sensitive guy. But there is a lot of room between misogynist and feminist. I knew he was not a misogynist, but I had never realized that he was not a feminist either. Or, if that is not fair, I had never realized that he would not want to engage with me on women’s issues.

This made me realize something more common. In my experience, the people who are generally culturally sensitive/politically correct are often the hardest to talk to about this. It is as if they are saying: “Ok. I get it. I am one of the good ones. Will you just leave me alone and let this one pass?” I know how they feel. I do not like being criticized either, but we should be able to talk about these things.

We have made a lot of progress, but one of the side effects is that people (even those opposed to the progress) understand that they cannot be so blatant about their prejudices. People have gotten better about hiding their racism, sexism, etc. As a result, the things we say off the cuff, or with a flippant tone, or when we are joking can be some of the most telling. Sometimes that is when the thoughts/feelings we have been hiding come out.

To be clear, I do appreciate the progress we have made and, in particular, the progress that these men I am talking about have made. But I think the progress is much more meaningful if we see it as part of a process. We still have changes to make, and I cannot see how we can do that without acknowledging our (remaining) faults.

So, how can we talk about women’s issues with men like my brother? I don’t know. Clearly, I have not been successful. But here are some smaller questions: Do you point these things out every time they come up? Or would that make it easier to tune out (broken record)? When you bring it up, do you acknowledge that it is a borderline issue? Or do you treat every issue as central to attaining real equality? Do you acknowledge that this person is generally an ally?

I have an inclination on this last one. I think the answer is probably yes, because it puts you on the same team (which you are) and makes it an effort to strengthen the team. My only hesitation is that I generally do not stroke egos when I think someone is doing something wrong.

HELP!

***For the record, I wish I could share more about my work day to day, but the project I am working in is confidential. I promise to share more if anything changes.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Post Four


This post is about that awkward moment when a conversation among young professional women turns to work-life balance.

In my experience, there is hardly a more loaded topic of conversation for young women facing imminent career choices than work-life balance. First, I wonder why this conversation basically only comes up around groups of women. Do women really care more? If so, why do they care more? If we disapprove of the reason—for example, because traditional gender roles require them to care more about home life—then what? Do we stop talking about it because we care about it for the “wrong” reasons? In short, how can you or I reconcile our desire to talk about work-life balance with our belief that women in general should not care so much about it—or, more accurately, that women should not care about it so much more than men.

When deciding whether to include discussions about work-life balance in events I have helped organize as a leader of various women’s groups, we have considered three main options: don’t do it (on principle); do it only if you are asked to or if it comes up while you’re talking about something else; just do it, because you can be relatively sure that people want to know about it. Generally, we have settled on just doing it or making sure to engage the topic if it comes up. The problem with the latter option is that the conversations are less prepared and, therefore, generally less thoughtful and more incomplete. Either way, we get flack for it every time—for heteronormativity, gender stereotyping, etc.

This is the tension I have not been able to resolve: how do we weigh the individual decision against the potential societal impact of that decision if aggregated. So, I can make my own decision that work-life balance is important to me. I can decide that even if I am playing into traditional gender roles, I still want to talk about it. But I can also think that it would be bad if every woman made the same decision as me.

What can we do? I know that I am not comfortable with sacrificing every woman’s individual choice. I respect women’s autonomy, and I support every woman’s choice to prioritize work-life balance. But then we have the problem of reinforcing “bad” societal norms. Maybe we can start from the premise that women’s decisions are right (rather than problematic) and try to bring more men into the conversation. That is, we make the conversation gender neutral by having more men, not fewer women.

I see this as one instance of a larger problem—or at least a larger question. Here’s another one: plastic surgery. I recently read an article about a young (14 years old) girl who elected to have plastic surgery to deal with bullies. This is almost certainly bad for society, but what about for the girl? It is also almost certainly better for her. So, do we begrudge her the safe harbor she seeks? It is something to think about. Here is a link to the story: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/28/nadia-isle-bullied-georgi_n_1712548.html

Friday, August 3, 2012

Post Three


During my second week at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), I am working on a memo related to Title IX. Title IX provides: "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." Though it actually covers much more (and, in fact, my memo is on a different issue), Title IX is probably best known for its role in women’s athletics.

Given the current Olympics fever, I thought it would be fun to talk about women and sports. Specifically, I would like to talk about the relationship between women’s and men’s competitive athletics in the context of a debate with friends last year. This debate was with two friends, one male and one female. While they are both sports fans, if it were a competition, she would surely be named the more engaged and enthusiastic.

So, here’s the debate: I argued that women were just as athletic as men. My female friend absolutely disagreed. My male friend seemed more likely to agree with her than me but remained uncommitted. Her main point was this: If, in general, men can run faster, jump higher, and lift more weight (for example) than women, how can I possibly say that women are as good of athletes as men? I think our disagreement was about the definition of athleticism.

To me, there is something more essential to being an athlete than setting those kinds of records. I offered the example of women’s basketball. Men’s basketball is much more popular than women’s, and it’s not secret why: the men run faster, jump higher and score more points (in general). But, I said, women’s basketball is commonly considered more pure than men’s by people who know and love the sport. I have heard many, many times that women play in a way that is truer to the sport. I guess if there were a Platonic ideal for basketball, women’s basketball would be a closer approximation of it than men’s. Who’s to say that doesn’t also make it more athletic.

In other words, what is athleticism? Maybe we have a flawed definition. Maybe we just decided on the wrong measures for athleticism, measures that favor men.

So, she asked, why aren’t women required to compete side by side with men if they are just as athletic. Well, here are some ideas: We know that athletics are important for more than outcomes—for example, they teach people lessons about dedication, perseverance, etc.—and we think it’s important for both genders to be able to learn those lessons. Another idea is that it’s easier to separate the genders in competition than to change the measures we use for success.

Either way, I think it’s important to keep in mind that we evaluate people as individuals here. This matters, because even if women are less likely to be able to run X time, jump Y high, or lift Z weight, there might be a woman who can do it (probably is), and she should be able to try. She should not be turned away because we have somehow decided that people who share her gender are less likely to be able to do it. That is how women have been excluded from, for example, labor-intensive industries for a long time. Too long.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Second post!

Hello again!

I am excited to finally start my blogging responsibilities in earnest.

First, here is a quick update on what I’ve been up to until now. I have done a lot of domestic traveling this summer. Most recently, I flew to DC from Chicago on Saturday, July 21 to start work at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) on Monday, July 23. It has been a very exciting summer, and I look forward to sharing more details/pictures in a future post. But, today, I have something more substantive I would like to think/write about.

During my first week at the Law Center, I wrote a memo on women working in low wage industries. Unsurprisingly, many of the industries in which women are the most heavily concentrated are low wage industries, including the restaurant and retail industries and direct (in home) care and domestic work (housekeeping and childcare). A related trend can be seen in higher wage industries, such as medicine and law. For example, female doctors are more likely to practice in lower-earning specialties like pediatrics. Female attorneys are also more likely to make less money than their male coworkers.

Faced with this state of affairs, we must ask ourselves: How can this be justified? Is there a reason other than that women are heavily concentrated in these industries? This challenge was offered by a female medical student in my American Politics class last year. She asked a male classmate to explain to her why pediatricians were paid so much less than other specialties. More training? Apparently this is true of some specialties but not all, and either way, the extra year of training (and the corresponding lost income) is more than compensated almost immediately. Less important? But pediatrics has to do with children—Is someone really willing to say that that is less important than, say, dermatology?

That conversation continued, but the point is, the conversation is more difficult than you might think if you never hesitated on it. It is hard to justify even the most commonplace deviations from equal pay. And that situation was rather localized. Imagine trying to justify the differences in compensation for teachers (female concentrated) and bankers (male concentrated). It’s something to think about at least.

Finally, I would like to shamelessly plug a piece I wrote for my journal at the law school, the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, regarding the pending Violence Against Women Act legislation. Here’s the link:

Friday, May 4, 2012

First post!


Hello!

Here is a little bit about myself and my upcoming internship. It’s all a little vague, since I don’t actually head out to Washington, D.C. for another couple of months, but I am already looking forward to sharing my experiences once I (finally!) get there.

I am from San Diego and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. I just completed—actually, I still have one final paper to hand in—my second year of a four-year JD/MPP program with the Kennedy School and Harvard Law School. I am passionate about women’s and gender issues and currently serve on the Women’s Law Association and Journal of Law and Gender boards. And, of course, I read nearly all of the internet’s many reputable feminist blogs nearly everyday.

This summer I will be interning at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). I am thrilled for the opportunity to work at the intersection of law and policy on women’s issues—I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect internship given my background/interests. At the Center, I will focus on education and employment issues. Though the specific issues I will work on will depend on what’s going on in Washington and across the country at the time, some examples of things I might work on include: affirmative action for women, equal pay, women in the military, pregnancy & parenting, sexual harassment & bullying, single sex education, and Title IX.

The type of work will be a mix of law and policy. My assignments will likely include: writing articles and fact sheets, commenting on proposed federal agency regulations, preparing Congressional testimony, researching legislative history, writing briefs, drafting complaints, and attending court, executive branch and Congressional proceedings. It should be a dynamic learning experience.

I am so excited about my NWLC internship this summer, and it is only possible because of the Harvard Women and Public Policy Program and the Deborah Carstens' Summer Fellowship.

Thank you very much. I am incredibly grateful.

Caitlin