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Monthly Archives: August 2008

Smart Start

I did a training to be a facilitator for The Wage Project. Here’s a picture of me and the other trainees. Basically what this means is that I can teach junior & senior college women about how to benchmark and negotiate their salaries as they get out of school. The average woman with a college degree will lose a million dollars over her lifetime because of wage inequity. Dr. Murphy’s book Getting Even: Why Women Don’t Get Paid Like Men and What to do About it researches and exposes pay inequity in depth. Her website is incredible. I saw Dr. Murphy speak at the Massachusetts Women in Public Higher Education Conference. I was so moved by her talk that I jumped on board when asked by our local YWCA if we wanted to be a campus pilot for the Wage Project.

Hannah Crowley: A Little Known Playwright Ahead of Her Time

My dear friend and acting mentor, Ed Shea, a brilliant director and the Artistic Director at 2nd Story Theatre, in Warren, RI asked me to write the scholarly essay for the current production. I was not only honored for the opportunity but thrilled to learn about yet another woman, ahead of her time, who changed the world for many. Check them out at

Hannah Cowley was one of few women in the 18th Century to make it as a playwright on the English stage, following behind Aphra Behn and Susanna Centlivre. Raised by a bookseller father, she was provided with a basic classical education unknown to most girls of her generation going on to support herself as a playwright, writing thirteen plays. Her entry into playwriting as a career reveals her personal agency as a woman. As the story goes, after a disappointing night at the theatre, Cowley told her husband that she could write a play just as good and did so. The early draft of The Runaway, her first play, was produced at Drury Lane. Her most successful play, The Belle’s Stratagem allowed her to become the breadwinner in her family, another rarity of the time.

The Belle’s Stratagem is also a perfect example of Cowley’s engaged female characters who examine women’s agency, the role of women’s education, and the institution of marriage. This play calls attention to the discrimination of women during a time when women were far from getting the vote in the U.S. or Britain.[i] In Act Two, Scene One, a discussion of women’s oppression ensues reminiscent of Marilyn Frye’s landmark 1982 essay “Oppression,” where she asks readers to consider a birdcage as a metaphor for oppression. When examining one wire at a time, the viewer is unable to see why a bird would not just fly by the wire to leave. Only when one steps back to see the entire cage do they can realize why the bird cannot escape. Frye writes, “It is perfectly obvious that the bird is surrounded by a network of systematically related barriers, no one of which would be the least hindrance to its flight, but which, by their relations to each other, are as confining as the solid walls of a dungeon.” Like that bird in the cage, Lady Frances Touchwood is asked by Mrs. Racket and Miss Ogle if she would like to stay longer to explore London and she replies “I have not the habit of consulting my own wishes.” Never given the opportunity to think for herself, Cowley’s feminists, Mrs. Racket and Miss Ogle, decide to encourage Lady Frances to do so.

Of course Sir George is quite alarmed by Mrs. Racket and Miss Ogle’s desire to take his wife out on the town and a discussion on what makes a “fine lady” ensues between Mrs. Racket and Sir George. His definition amounts to a worldly and independent woman being a traitor to her home and one who is controlled by vanity. Mrs. Racket accuses him of living in the old days and counters his definition by stating that a “fine lady” is one “for whom nature has done much and education more; she has taste, elegance, spirit, understanding . . . a fine lady is the life of conversation, the spirit of society, the joy of the public!” This debate mimics even today’s dualistic stereotype of woman as either Madonna or whore. Sir George implies that all women are alike and states that even Mrs. Racket fails in her proper position of widow. Jumping to her defense, Miss Ogle replies that Sir George wishes for a society of 150 years ago when families had dedicated roles assigned to them.

During this debate, Mr. Flutter enters and reveals that Sir George had let Lady Frances’ bullfinch fly away because he was jealous of her love for the bird. Sir George then tells Mrs. Racket and Miss Ogle that Lady Frances will not be going out with them. Alarmed, she states this is the first time he has used the expression “shall not” in reference to her. Mrs. Racket and Miss Ogle insist she leave with them, even when Lady Frances expresses concern that Sir George is angry. They gently remind her that her husband got rid of her bird and that this moment will define their relationship from now on. Lady Frances agrees, saying “I won’t give up neither. If I should in this instance, he’ll expect it forever.”

Cowley uses the play, with comedic wit and characterization, to deconstruct 18th century courtship, expose oppression in marriage, and explore women’s independence. Yet she simultaneously allows Lady Frances to make a choice about her life and her marriage. At the end of the day, Lady Frances returns to Sir George and tells him she missed him and that she would rather spend her time with him as “Every body about me seem’d happy but every body seem’d in a hurry to be happy somewhere else.” For Cowley, women’s independence is not about being without men, but in having the choice to be with them. Hannah Cowley, while absent from many theatre history texts, was two hundred years ahead of her time.

[i] Women could vote in 1918, two years before U.S. women, but they had to be at least 30 years old. In 1928 they were allowed to vote at the same age as men.

I Should Explain

I was showing my husband my blog the other night and realized that I needed to explain what the other blog entries were. I have been writing what is called “Community Voices” for The Herald News of Fall River since last fall. I would love to do it more, like develop a woman’s column. And often the online versions have very interesting and illuminating commentary by local readers.

Regulations Thwart Democratic Process

The best part of this one was what I found out about federal regulations. I also love the comments made by a reader on the website. She thinks that global warming is a myth. We just had two tornados in our area for the first time in my life.

With only 156 days left in office, the Bush administration is advocating for a federal regulation expanding the definition of abortion to include contraceptive methods that prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg. Does the average person know what methods this includes? My guess is that many do not. This theory comes from sixteen years working with college students. When I ask college women if they know how their birth control pill prevents pregnancy, many are surprised when I tell them they don’t ovulate. The other contraceptives that prevent ovulation, like the pill, are the Nuvaring, Depo-Provera, and the birth control patch. The IUD (Intrauterine device), one of the oldest methods of birth control, does not prevent ovulation, but prevents a fertilized egg from implanting on the walls of the uterus, as does the Morning After Pill, a high dosage birth control taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

But the core of my commentary today isn’t to educate the readers about the various methods of birth control that stop fertilization. Instead, I want to explore this notion of a federal regulation. Federal regulations are rules enacted by federal agencies. Federal regulations are contained in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Federal regulations generally are published in the Federal Register. When doing a quick internet search of federal regulations, I found This website, “your voice in federal decision-making,” allows the average citizen to comment on regulations being proposed by various federal agencies, like the Department of Health and Human Services. I was neither successful in finding this proposed draft regulation nor clear on how these comments are reviewed nor taken into account and by whom. The only thing I know is that these department and agency heads are appointed by the President of the United States.

The abortion debate and when life begins is irrelevant to me if we have a system of government where regulations can be made that will gravely affect women’s rights to control their fertility outside of the democratic process that we so proudly espouse. Why is there nothing in the media addressing how these regulations are made and why they can be enacted and enforced outside of the regular democratic process?

It is disappointing, but not surprising, that in Bush’s last days in office he would choose to thwart the democratic process and continue to chip away at women’s rights instead of focusing on serious issues of the economy, the war in Iraq and the tragedy of global warming.

Strip Clubs Degrade Women

The Herald News put my strip club community commentary on YouTube as one of their first online videos. It is clear they were new to videography.

(I’m supporting Hillary Clinton for President because) I want to see more women at the top making policy, which is clearly lacking in the Southcoast where businessmen continue to make poor decisions about the region’s economic development. For an area that has been called the “armpit” of Massachusetts, as the beautiful coastline, untapped resources, and hard-working citizens are overlooked, community-based economic development continues to be ignored.

We are at a crucial moment in our history, as this newly named So-Co. With a Governor who actually recognizes our possibilities, including the need for our overdue rail service, and a burgeoning cultural explosion, particularly in New Bedford, the latest development, the urge to get adult entertainment in Westport and Fall River baffles me. How will more strip clubs enhance the positive growth we have begun toward culture, the arts, and a community development based in sustainability?

I spent two summers during graduate school working at what is now The Regatta (then Leones—or “Leave me Aloney’s” as many called it), and I was always surprised by the lack of any development on the waterfront. Growing up on the coast of Maine, the waterfront was often littered with boat slips, restaurants and shops that would fit in perfectly on this stretch of the Taunton River.

Sixteen years later, things aren’t much different. And instead of moving forward and figuring out a way to build the economy by developing the waterfront for everyone, a few brilliant men want to build a “high class men’s club” with “limousines picking up the girls.” A high class men’s club that hires “girls” and not women is not the economic boost that poor Fall River needs. In a community with the highest female dropout rate in the state, is that the message and the environment we want to bank our economic development on?

I grew up in a state that took an old fishing city (Portland, Maine) and developed it into what is now called the Seattle of the East Coast. It wasn’t developed on the backs of “girls” taking off their clothes for men. It was developed through careful planning and economic development that would build community rather than ghettoize it.

How do parents explain to their children, while visiting Heritage Park, what that adult entertainment place next door is? There is already a strip club on Rt. 6 in Dartmouth called The King’s Inn. There is a second Foxy Lady in New Bedford. How many strip clubs does this community need? Are they booked to capacity every night? Are women clamoring to take pole dancing classes so they can strip for a living?

By offering employment opportunities to women that degrade them, we are setting a poor example for a community that needs to build upon its strengths, not its weaknesses.

Money Matters in Decision to Stay Married

You’ll get the gist of this one.

Stand By Your Man

When Tammy Wynette first wrote the words “Stand by your man” she suggested it was hard to be a woman loving just one man because “he’ll have good times doing things that you don’t understand.” And that even if you don’t understand him, if you love him, you should forgive him because “after all he’s just a man.” When reading these lyrics closely, it seems Wynette did not think too highly of men’s intelligence. But what of the intelligence of those women who do “stand by their man” like Silda Spitzer, Suzanne Craig, Dina Matos McGreevey, Wendy Vitter, and Hillary Clinton?

In most of the commentaries written about these political wives who stood by their men, writers tend to express three views: 1) they are disgusted that these women accepted the infidelity; 2) they feel it is a political move to show the public that if she can stand by them, then their constituents still can; and 3) they feel she is standing by her man to support their children.

Yet, there is a reason that women stand by their men that has not gotten much attention. Money. Has anyone addressed what is at stake financially if these women pack up and leave their politically connected spouses? Statistically, a woman’s standard of living can decrease 10-25% after a divorce. If you are living a comfortable upper-class life, as most of the aforementioned women are, divorce is an economic gamble. Furthermore, women who divorce tend to lose their social networks. Would you be willing to lower your income and lose your friends? Even battered women stay with their batterers because of money. And being beaten up by your husband is far more damaging than being cheated on! These might be financial risks that women like Spitzer, Craig, Vitter and Clinton were not willing to make.

And in Clinton’s case, it is clear she had future goals in mind when she stood by her president. She knew the Senate and her own candidacy for president had a better chance in a political partnership than being single. Would she even be a viable candidate today if she was single? Marriage seems to be an unwritten requirement to run for president.

When we look at these women who stand by their cheating men, perhaps we should stop first and look at their checking accounts and think about how much they might be giving up before we judge them.

The Best Mother’s Day Gift: Workplace Reform

On the eve of Mother’s Day, the day when we spend thousands of dollars honoring our mothers, is a good time to reflect on how our country feels about motherhood. While millions of dollars go into the corporatization of celebrating Mothers Day, the U.S. is one of five developed countries that do not offer paid leave; nor do we provide affordable childcare or real breast feeding friendly workplaces for mothers.

One study (from Harvard University) shows that out of 173 countries, only five provided no paid maternity leave: Papua New Guinea, Lesotho, Swaziland, Liberia, and the United States. France and the Netherlands offer sixteen weeks of paid leave; six before the child is born and the remaining ten after the birth. Sweden, the most generous of all, gives women eighteen months of maternity leave and the option of a six hour work day with benefits until the child reaches school age.

Of course there are some “progressive” companies that do offer their employees paid leave in the U.S., but even that amount is paltry. Approximately 8% of women in this country actually get some sort of paid maternity leave. Furthermore, only 8% of the “100 Best Companies for Working Mothers” offer more than 12 weeks paid leave. 20% of them offer 7-8 weeks, but these numbers are minimal compared to 18 months in Sweden (Institute for Women’s Policy Research). At the state university where I work, the faculty and professional staff are given the federally required 12 weeks of FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act), but most women and men cannot afford to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave, so they take what they can from their personal, vacation and sick time, averaging seven or eight weeks at the most. New Jersey is currently considering a bill to provide six weeks paid leave to care for newborns.

When women do return to work, often sooner than they would like, they struggle to continue breastfeeding. While 70% of mothers breastfeed, only 36% continue when their children are 6 months old. Only 14% of children over 6 months old are exclusively breastfed (Breastfeeding Medicine). One of my colleagues wanted to breastfeed for a full year and stopped after her son was 6 months old. After returning to work, she could only manage to breastfeed for another six weeks because the only place she could pump was in the restroom in a residence hall, which is not the most sanitary place to pump nor was she offered the appropriate amount of time in which to take the time she needed to pump as often as she should and her milk dried up. She, of course, felt as many women in her situation do; that she had failed her child and was a bad mother for not breastfeeding for a year.

This same woman is not able to choose to have another child because having two children in childcare would cost her more than what she makes at her job. She would have to stop working if she and her spouse had another child. She wants to work and be a mother to more than one child, but cannot afford to do so.

So on this Mother’s Day, if you really care about mothers, perhaps along with sending your mom a card, you could also drop a note to your Congressperson to support reform on maternity leave that is dictated by family friendly policies rather than corporate greed.

MCSW’s Unsung Heroine Awards

I got a really cool award this year, nominated by my colleague, the Executive Director of the YWCA of Southern Massachusetts. I’m nominating her again next year. She has stiffer competition being from New Bedford than I do.

my feminist praxis

critical reflections on my feminist praxis: activism, motherhood, and life

The Feminist Critic

Providing weekly critiques of theatre, film, books, politics and pop culture from a feminist perspective.