May 112018
 May 11, 2018

Two weeks ago, Boy Scouts of America (BSA), announced that it would officially drop the “Boy” from the name of the scouting division it runs for boys ages 10 to 17. Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh stated, “as we enter a new era for our organization, it is important that all youth can see themselves in Scouting in every way possible.”  This change follows an earlier decision made in October to extend Cub Scout membership to 3,000 girls under an early adopter program.  Over the summer, Cub Scouts is expected to formally welcome and accept girls ages 6 to 10.  Next year, young women will also have the opportunity to earn the much-coveted Eagle Scout rank, which, unlike the Girl Scouts “equivalent”, the Gold Award, is widely recognized as an extremely prestigious honor.  The decision to include young women in all scouting divisions, and to change program titles to be gender-neutral, seems to follow a trend of increasing inclusivity.  Indeed, in 2014, BSA began accepting openly gay members and in 2017, transgender members.

Many Girl Scouts leaders and the Mormon Church have been critical of BSA’s decision to accept young women.  In October, Girl Scouts stated, “The need for female leadership has never been clearer or more urgent than it is today – and only Girl Scouts has the expertise to give girls and young women the tools they need for success. The benefit of the single-gender environment has been well-documented.” Moreover, the Mormon Church, once one of BSA’s largest sponsors, severed ties with the organization this past Wednesday.   Indeed, one out of every five Boy Scouts is Mormon. While the church had been moving in the direction of renouncing its endorsement for the past couple of years, it seems as if the opening of BSA divisions to young women has caused the church to initiate its own organization for youth, maintaining separation of the sexes.

In addition to the mentorship group for young women at Brogden Middle School, I have been helping to lead a Girl Scouts troop that meets at Families Moving Forward. Thus far, our meetings have included such activities as a community-service project in which we decorated and delivered Easter baskets to residents of a retirement home, a trip to a community arts festival, and a Mother’s Day craft making session.  While these activities may be culturally coded as feminine, I think that the troop achieves the mission of Girl Scouts by building confidence, leadership skills, and a sense of comradery. Reading about the membership politics of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and also overseeing a Girl Scouts troop, has reminded me of my previous post regarding the value of women-only spaces, and has made me contemplate the more general understanding of gender in our society.  Why has Boy Scouts allowed young women to join, but Girl Scouts has not opened its doors to young men?

May 042018
 May 4, 2018

This week, Kelly Wooten, the research services and development coordinator librarian for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at the David M. Rubenstein Library, led a workshop for the girls at Brogden about feminist zines.  When Wooten first asked if anyone knew what a zine was, the room was silent.   Pointing to the classroom door, which is decorated with photographs of smiling students and positive messages, Wooten explained that a zine can take many forms. Ultimately, however, zines are characterized by their homemade construction and ability to spread messages outside of the mainstream media.  In the diverse collection of contemporary and historic zines that Wooten shared, including one that she had authored, the girls recognized that feminism, identity, and storytelling were all predominant themes.  In addition to introducing the girls to an engaging form for expression, I think that this meeting was particularly valuable because it brought greater visibility to “zinesters” and spread their ideas, thoughts, and opinions to a younger generation of women.

In the 1990’s, the riot grrrl movement, a punk, do-it-yourself, subculture that developed amidst the third-wave feminist movement, popularized zines as a method for woman-identifying individuals to find solidarity through art and creation.  Thus, zines became tools to enhance the visibility of women’s issues, establish a space for women’s voices, and connect women in different social circles.  In the fall of 1992, Sarah Dyer, a comic book artist and avid zine reader, decided to start Action Girl Newsletter, a review-style zine, in order to “network all the girl zine and mini-comic creators [she] could find.” Eventually with the rise of the internet and the popularity of blogging, the distribution of physical zines began to fade.  Dyer, however, had carefully stored hundreds of zines, some which may have been the only copies left in existence, and donated her collection to the Sallie Bingham Center.  Indeed, Dyer explained that if “[she] really wanted to see these zines preserved, [she] needed to find a safer place for them.”Since her initial donation, the Sallie Bingham Center’s zine collection has flourished to become one of the largest in the United States.  Due to the tremendous care and effort of the librarians at the Center, the girls and women of the riot grrrl movement and beyond can continue to be heard.

Next week, the girls will begin making their own zines. I think that by creating zines, or perhaps creating one collective zine, the girls will have an appropriate forum in which to share and document their experience participating in the mentorship group. Perhaps our tour this weekend to the Scrap Exchange, a woman-founded, creative reuse arts center,

Apr 272018
 April 27, 2018

What would you do if you had $75 left in your bank account? For Areli Barrera de Grodski, the answer was to start a business – Cocoa Cinnamon.  In just a few years, together with her husband Leon Grodski de Barrera, Barrera de Grodski managed to expand Cocoa Cinnamon/Cacao Canela from a coffee-bike to a “three-location (semi-bilingual) coffee shop business.”  This week, while interviewing Barrera de Grodski, I particularly noticed how factors other than profit, such as her desire to create an authentic, inclusive, gathering space, to promote the work of local artists, and to share her passion for coffee with the Durham community, fueled Barrera de Grodski’s hard work.  Explaining that while Cocoa Cinnamon is a business, she and her husband ascribe to practices, such as paying their employees a living wage, and donating a portion of their profits to local organizations, that seemingly contradict the profit motive.  When Barrera de Grodski claimed that Cocoa Cinnamon endeavors to be a “business with a conscious”, I was reminded of insights into our work ethic shared by behavioral economist Dan Ariely in a TED RadioHour podcast, “What Pushes Us To Work Hard – Even When We Don’t Have To.”

Ariely ultimately concludes that in today’s post-industrial economy, “money is just one of the [many factors that motivate us to work] and maybe not even the most important one.”  During the podcast, Ariely recounts his findings of a social experiment in which a group of people were given instructions regarding how to produce a piece of origami.  Although the resulting origami were “ugly”, the origami makers believed them to be worth much more money than did a group of external evaluators.  Next, the same group of origami makers were asked to craft again, but this time without the instructions.  The origami turned out to be even “uglier” than the first creations and received an even lower appraisal from the external evaluators; however, the origami makers believed them to be more valuable than their first ones.  Calling this phenomenon the “IKEA effect”, Ariely deduced that similar to his greater affinity for self-assembled furniture purchased from IKEA, the origami makers derived a greater value for their own creations due to the care and effort of their labor.  Indeed, Ariely claims that if we value all of the things that go into work, such as “meaning, creation, identity, pride…we may also be happier as a result.” Here, I thought about what factors may have motivated all of the wonderful guest speakers to graciously take the time to become mentors for the girls at Brogden.

Even though her weekly grind (no pun intended) typically exceeds 60 hours, Barrera de Grodski explained that “getting rich” is not her intention.  Although she has received offers to franchise Cocoa Cinnamon, she is worried that the mission behind her business will deteriorate without her care and supervision.  I am looking forward to our group field trip on Cinco de Mayo to the Lakewood location of Cocoa Cinnamon not only to see the fruit of Barrera de Grodski’s labor, but also to eat some delicious churros!

Apr 202018
 April 20, 2018

The Wing, an exclusive, women-only club, with many celebrity clientele, such as transgender actress Hari Nef, expanded beyond its two New York City locations and opened its first branch in the nation’s capital last week.  Founded by the chic, thirty-something-year-olds,Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan, The Wing is “a network of co-working and community spaces designed for women to promote their professional, civic, social, and economic advancement.” Although the all-access annual membership fee is roughly $3,000, The Wing includes a library only stocked with female-authored books, a healthy snack bar, a lactation room, and a hair salon. Ironically, while The Wing seems to help remedy the historical exclusion of women from men-only spaces, such as country clubs, cigar bars, and not to mention Congress, it violates New York and D.C.’s anti-discrimination laws since it is a for-profit company that excludes those who are not “living as a woman.” Indeed, criticism, particularly from the ACLU, regarding The Wing’s exclusionary membership policy contributes to the larger debate concerning the best manner in which to advance women’s rights.

Although Gelman has stated that women are more effective in an environment absent of men, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a self-described “flaming feminist litigator”, has long advocated for men and women to work together in order to resolve issues of gender discrimination. In the landmark case, Craig v. Boren (1976), the all-male Court examined an Oklahoma statute that required men, but not women, to be over the age of eighteen in order to purchase a low-alcohol concentration beer.  Finding the Oklahoma law unconstitutional, the Court heightened the level of review applied to gender discrimination cases.  Ironically, although it concerned a male plaintiff, Craig forced the Court to realize the extent to which gender stereotypes pervade the law. Ginsburg, then an attorney for the Women’s Project at the ACLU, deeply favored this tactful strategy for examining discriminatory laws from a perspective of gender-neutrality.  Indeed, just a few weeks ago during a talk at Georgetown Law, Justice Ginsburg reiterated this belief and alluded to her opinion of The Wing stating, “I think that the people who wanted to keep things the way they were would’ve been happy if the women had gathered in their own groups with no men.”

As Gelman and Justice Ginsburg’s opinions concerning the effectiveness of women-only spaces seem to be at odds with each other, I thought about how this debate relates to the eighth-grade girls group at Brogden Middle School.  During her interview, Alice Cheung, founder of Bull City escape, shared that her membership to a women-only group for business owners in Durham has provided her with an invaluable network of support. Furthermore, Bibi Gnagno, the Student Development Coordinator at the Duke Women’s Center, noted that she finds working in a women-only space to be particularly comfortable.  While I agree with Gelman that “women deserve spaces of their own”, I am also wondering if including young men in the group, providing them with an opportunity to also meet and learn from strong women leaders in their community, may have helped to further dismantle detrimental gender stereotypes and promote gender equality.

Apr 132018
 April 13, 2018

Dr. Victoria Smith and Dr. Moyo Tillery, two Duke Doctor in Physical Therapy Program alums, came and spoke with the eighth-grade girls at Brogden Middle School this week about their careers as physical therapists.  Dr. Smith both practices pediatric physical therapy and serves as a clinical instructor at Duke Hospital, and Dr. Tillery owns a private practice in Durham, Triangle Family Physical Therapy.  Since many of the young women in the group are interested in pursuing careers in medicine, and one young woman expressed a particular interest in physical therapy, I think that they were excited to meet the doctors and learn about their careers.  Similar to many of the other guest speakers, such as the founder of Bull City Escape, Alice Cheung, and Assistant District Attorneys, Ameshia Cooper and Patricia Flood, Dr. Smith and Dr. Tillery not only answered questions specific to their profession, but also served as mentors, sharing their advice for achieving a successful and fulfilling career. Moreover, as physical therapists, Dr. Smith and Dr. Tillery also provided critical representation for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, STEM, areas in which women are often inadequately represented.

While the representation of women in STEM is overall lower than that of men, interestingly, physical therapy is a field that was founded by and is still predominantly comprised of women.  Following World War I and the polio epidemic, the most modern practices of physical therapy began in the United States.  Reconstruction Aides, who were exclusively women, provided exercise-based treatment to wounded soldiers and disabled children.  In 1921, just one year after women across the nation were granted the right to vote, reconstruction aides founded what is now known as the American Physical Therapy Association; thus, institutionalizing the practice of physical therapy.  Men, however, did not enter the profession until more than a decade later.  Today, although women comprise about seventy percent of the profession, men own private practices, typically a more lucrative sector of physical therapy, at approximately twice the rate of female practitioners.  Furthermore, men are disproportionately represented in director positions in physical therapy education programs. I wondered why women are disproportionately underrepresented in what some may consider to be the more superior positions of the profession.

I thought that having Dr. Smith and Dr. Tillery speak with the girls about the beneficial and life-changing treatment they provide every day for their patients was extremely inspirational.  Furthermore, as an educator and as a private practitioner, Dr. Smith and Dr. Tillery are both leaders in areas of the profession in which women are typically underrepresented.  During the meeting, Dr. Smith and Dr. Tillery graciously provided their mentorship and guidance, encouraging a younger generation of women to achieve their goals in STEM or whichever field they may eventually choose to pursue.

Apr 062018
 April 6, 2018

Wednesday evening, I had the privilege of listening to Carmen Perez, co-chair of the historic Women’s March on Washington, deliver an extremely inspirational speech regarding her twenty years of activism.  Perez not only helped to organize the largest single-day demonstration in U.S. history, but she also founded two state-based task forces: Justice League NYC and Justice League CA, dedicated to advancing criminal and juvenile justice reform. Currently, she serves as the Executive Director of The Gathering for Justice, an organization working to end racial inequities and child incarceration in the criminal justice system. During her speech, Perez recounted the hardships she has confronted, people whom she has encountered, and lessons she has learned. Ultimately, she claimed that in order for social movements to be successful, we must recognize the intersections between issues of social justice and stand in solidarity with one another.

Although not a perfectly inclusive demonstration, Perez stated that the Women’s March made great progress towards advancing the interests of all women. Unlike previous leaders of women’s rights movements, the founding leaders of the Women’s March wanted to make a conscious effort to represent and elevate the interests of women from all backgrounds.  While at first hesitant to offer her assistance, as a Latina from a “farming community plagued by violence”, Perez recalled, “I realized that I had the power to make the march inclusive and make it my responsibility to make everyone a part of it.”  Although the original organizers had good intentions, Perez believed that without her support as well as that of “women from every shade of brown”, the march would have ultimately failed to “produce the most radical policy platform in the history of the United States.”  Although seemingly disparate, marchers realized that the issues they individually supported, such as, reproductive rights, immigration reform, and environmental justice, were interwoven and could simultaneously be advanced through a collective march.

Here, I thought about the connections I have made between issues that I have observed over the course of my fellowship.  For example, during Margaret Regan’s lecture earlier this year, I noted the relationship between immigration and criminal justice reform. While Mayor Mitch Landrieu spoke of the hateful environment the confederate monuments created for many of his constituents, I was reminded of when Dr. Brenda Armstrong recalled that, at times, she felt unwelcomed from certain spaces during her under-graduate experience at Duke. Furthermore, as I have noticed that many families staying at Families Moving Forward are headed by single mothers, I am wondering about the relationship between issues of homelessness and women’s rights.

In concluding her speech, Perez asked us to turn to the person sitting to our right and say, “You are loved. You are important. You are necessary.”  Afterwards, we contemplated why this simple exercise had generated so much discomfort, giggling, and awkward pauses. Perez stated that in order to make positive social change, we must be willing to look past our differences, recognize one another’s basic humanity, and form human connections.  As I continue to engage with a wide-range of social justice issues, I will be mindful to heed Perez’s advice.

Mar 302018
 March 30, 2018

After seeing A Wrinkle in Time this past weekend, I thought about the power director Ava DuVernay wielded in determining the manner in which Madeleine L’Engle’s classic, best-selling children’s novel would come to life on-screen. As the first person of color in charge of a nine-figure budget for a Disney movie, DuVernay decided to make many distinct and “fiercely feminizing” choices, such as making her film the first sci-fi fantasy to have a young woman of color as the lead.  In response to DuVernay’s casting decisions, actress Reese Witherspoon stated, “It’s just a different perspective, and you don’t get that until we start to have powerful filmmakers of different colors, different genders.”

Since my post last week regarding the implications of “who gets to speak for Basquiat?”, I have continued to contemplate the critical role filmmakers play in shaping our perception of culture and society.  For a class assignment, the young women in the Brogden Middle School group are making documentaries about different social justice topics, such as the gendered differences in school dress codes and the politics of school funding.  During the meeting this week, Director of the Literacy Through Photography Project, Dr. Katherine Hyde, led a discussion regarding the art of documentary work. She explained that expanding the accessibility of filmmaking resources and education to young people, who often do not have the opportunity to “tell their own story”, is one of the primary factors motivating her work.  Noting that the vast majority of documentaries, while certainly educational and enjoyable to watch, were historically produced by white men, Hyde challenged the girls to think about how factors related to a filmmaker’s identity, such as race, age, socio-economic status, and gender, may affect the production process. I wondered how a documentary about school dress codes made by a young woman of color may differ from one made by an older, white man.

As we spend an increasingly large amount of time in front of the screen, I thought about the influence the creators of the content we absorb exert on our world-view. Indeed, the diverse cast of A Wrinkle in Time may challenge us to think about who Disney, Hollywood, and the media industry as a whole tend to feature. Oprah Winfrey explained, “When you don’t see yourself, there is a subconscious psychological manifestation. It’s diminishing.”  Leading actress of A Wrinkle in Time, Storm Reid, stated, “Before I got this role, I wanted there to be more little girls that look like me on TV and in lead roles.” I wondered if the movie would have featured a multiracial cast if DuVernay had not been in the director’s chair.

Mar 232018
 March 23, 2018

During the screening of the third installment of this year’s Ethics Film Series, Jean Michel – Basquiat: The Radiant Child, I wondered about the relationship between the revolutionary nature of Basquiat’s work and his social life.  Beginning as a graffiti artist under the tag SAMO, Basquiat quickly rose to become one of the most influential artists in the 20th century.  Just last year, Basquiat’s painting, Untitled (1982), sold at Sotheby’s for a record-breaking $110.5 million.  Although his art critiqued societal structures, such as capitalism and socio-economic stratification, I thought about Basquiat’s engagement in the very elitist world he condemned.  I wondered if Basquiat may have experienced a sense of othering as a young, black man working and socializing in a predominantly older, white sphere.  In fact, one quotation describes Basquiat’s art shows as places with “white people, white walls and white wine.”  I contemplated if Basquiat purposefully entered the fine art world in order for the messages in his art to reach those perhaps most in need of an “awakening.”

Following the film, Ayanna Legros, a PhD candidate in the History Department at Duke University, and co-founder of the BASQUIAT: Still Fly @ 55 project, led a discussion about the ethical implications of our remembrance of Basquiat.  Asking the audience, “who gets to speak for Basquiat”, Legros challenged me to think critically about the influence different perspectives and backgrounds have in the interpretation of historical events.  Indeed, the documentary opens with a quotation from Madonna, one of several ex-girlfriends who speak on behalf of Basquiat during the film. Although much of Basquiat’s artwork exalts African American history and culture, I noticed that primarily white acquaintances, colleagues, and collectors were interviewed.  I wondered why certain people and not others were featured.

Next, Legros mentioned ways in which Basquiat is remembered today.  While some refer to Basquiat as the Black Picasso, Legros asked us to consider the problematic connotation of this title.  Why is Basquiat not known as, well, Basquiat?  Finally, Legros turned to the commodification of Basquiat’s work. The iconic, three-pointed crown, often included in his paintings to commemorate African culture, now adorns many apparel lines.  Moreover, the cosmetics company, Urban Decay, decorated a make-up collection with a distinctively Basquiat style.  Although Legros explained that Basquiat welcomed his fame and fortune, she stated that it is nevertheless ironic that he is remembered through an industry his art endeavored to critique.

Later, I thought about the broader implications this conversation holds for the context of my project.  In order to avoid misrepresenting points of view, I think it is important to provide the girls with their own platform for expression.  Indeed, by providing an outlet for the girls to share their thoughts, knowledge, and opinions about the meetings we have had over the course of the year, I think my initial goal of empowerment will be achieved.  In the upcoming weeks, I will be thinking more about the format for this final presentation.


Mar 192018
 March 19, 2018

At ten o’clock Wednesday morning, organizing around #Enough, students at thousands of schools across the country, including those at Brogden Middle School, stood outside for seventeen minutes in order to honor the seventeen victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting.  Some students also used the moment to advocate for more restrictive gun control policies and greater accessibility to mental health-care.  Although the majority of school districts were supportive of the walkout, others threatened students with disciplinary action.  During the lunchtime meeting at Brogden, guest speaker for the week, Monét Noelle Marshall, a local activist and performing artist, challenged the eighth-graders to think critically about the political and social significance of their participation in the walkout.

During the discussion, I wondered if gun control is a gendered issue.  While there are certainly many women who strongly support the “right to bear arms”, Duke political scientist Kristen Goss explains that “women tend to be more in favor of gun regulation than men.”

Although the walkout was ultimately a student-led initiative, I noticed that many Women’s March leaders were influential in supporting and broadcasting the message.  Indeed, Women’s March Youth EMPOWER even provided an online toolkit to help students prepare for the Wednesday morning demonstration.  A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center finds that “gun ownership is more common among men than women, and white men are particularly more likely to be gun owners.” Noting the tendency for mass shooters to be young, white, men, Marshall asked the girls to consider whether calls for more restrictive firearm legislation and mental health-care reform are merely band aid solutions to a much larger, systemic, gender-related problem.

In addition, I thought about the connection between gun violence and violence against women.  The Atlantic published an article explaining that higher rates of gun availability “correlate with higher rates of female homicide.”

According to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, among American women alive today, “about 4.5 million have had an intimate partner threaten them with a gun and nearly one million have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner.”

Furthermore, some research even suggests that mass shooters are more likely to have a history of domestic violence.  For example, the advocacy group, Everytown for Gun Safety, finds that “while perpetrators of domestic violence account for only about 10 percent of all gun violence, they accounted for 54 percent of mass shootings between 2009 and 2016.”

As Marshall suggested, although the cause for the increasing frequency of gun violence is a multifaceted and complex issue, I also believe that the values by which we choose to raise boys and girls need to be included in current conversations regarding prevention.

Mar 102018
 March 10, 2018

During the annual Kenan Distinguished Lecture, Making Straight What Has Been Crooked: The Ethics and Politics of Race in America, Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu and Associate Professor of History at Duke University, Adriane Lentz-Smith engaged members of the Duke and greater Durham community in a conversation about improving racial relations. Throughout the discussion, Landrieu explained that his executive decision to remove four of New Orleans’s confederate monuments reflects his belief that a greater effort to recognize and apologize for the institution of slavery can help us advance towards a post-racial America. Despite the progress made since the Jim Crow Era, however, recent events, such as the Charlottesville rally and the Charleston church shooting, for me, still indicate a widespread white supremacist and racist stronghold.  Here, I wondered if a post-racial America can ever be realized.

Although overt segregation no longer exists, a phenomenon Landrieu referred to as “institutionalized racism” imposes a major obstacle for equality. Using his experience orchestrating the removal of four monuments, Landrieu elucidated his definition of institutionalized racism.  While the monuments commemorated the confederacy, the side fighting to preserve the institution of slavery, many believed them to represent important aspects of Louisiana’s history and culture.  Since every contractor within the state refused to carry out the project, removal proved to be an extremely arduous task.  As he believed the monuments memorialized the most heinous period in our nation’s history, Landrieu did not abandon his search for a contractor. Eventually, contractors from outside of the state took to the task, receiving multiple death threats, and even having their cars firebombed.

Moreover, Landrieu referred to institutional racism as a “structural inertia”, preventing black and brown individuals from actually attaining the rights and privileges the law ostensibly promises to everyone. I thought about the role of institutionalized racism in what is increasingly being referred to as the black maternal health crisis. In a recent Slate article, researchers, controlling for factors such as socio-economic and educational status, found that prejudicial assumptions regarding black women can create a “toxic work environment”, leading to additional stress and health-related issues. In fact, the article claimed that discrimination may at least be partially responsible for the black, non-hispanic infant mortality rate, nearly double that of the the white, non-hispanic rate. Moreover, black women are “two to three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related complication.”

Throughout Landrieu’s discussion of institutionalized racism, I thought about its relationship to implicit bias, a frequently mentioned concept among the women with whom I have conversed.  Drawing parallels between Landrieu’s call for a nation-wide recognition of institutionalized racism, Dr. Brenda Armstrong’s call for a university-wide, mandated implicit bias test; and Professor Keith’s call for a “cultural competency” course to be implemented in the legal curriculum; I wondered whether a conscious, educational effort to both recognize and address our implicit biases will also help ebb the pernicious effects of institutionalized racism.  Moreover, I wondered if many of those who were not present at the lecture were those who most needed to be informed of Landrieu’s prescription for a united nation.