An Interview with Shari Olefson and Lisa Lewin of the Women’s Equal Pay Network

By Jackie Collens

The Women’s Equal Pay Network is an organization committed to ending gendered pay discrimination in the legal professions. Their goal is to encourage women to break the silence about discrimination they have faced in the workplace by allowing them a place to share their stories and hear the experiences of others. I recently had a chance to speak with two women working on the WEPN, Shari Olefson and Lisa Lewin, to learn more about the organization.

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Tell me a little about how and when the Women’s Equal Pay Network got started:

 Shari: It actually started when a few of us at the Carnegie Group became more aware of the issues that women faced in really enforcing their rights when it came to enforcing equal pay, and we thought it would be great if women had a place to tell their stories. The legal system can be really inaccessible, and this is a way to give women a voice.

 

What strategy is the WEPN using to seek an end to gender discrimination in the legal professions?

 S: Well, first and foremost we’re collecting women’s stories and sharing their stories with policy makers.

Lisa: What I’m trying to do through social media is build a following and give news updates, highlights, trends, whatever’s going on out there currently about the equal pay discussion, and at the same time direct people to the website. It’s important to have that first step of having somebody listen to the women sharing their stories and helping them feel validated.   I think with everything it’s very hard to put a face to an issue when you just keep hearing these numbers all the time. When you hear someone’s personal story it’s easier to put a face to the issue.

 

What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment, or most rewarding experience, with the WEPN so far?

L: I’ve only been doing this for about three weeks now, and there’s a lot of start-up. In another life I was a lawyer so I love to tackle something new and research it. Personally I really enjoyed just digging into it and seeing where things stood. From a social media angle, it’s very hard to build a following from scratch and move into an area like this that has such heavy hitters. And we’ve been able to move in, we’ve been re-tweeted by Ms Magazine; we’ve had people dialoguing back and forth on twitter. We’ve been able to become part of the conversation very quickly.

S: Everyone I’ve spoken to so far and asked if they’re interested in being involved in this, has been so overwhelmingly enthusiastic.   They just are very excited about being involved. Everyone has automatically shared at least one of their stories. Always, everyone has a story like that.

L: Everywhere you go, you’re right, everyone has a story.

S: Think about if we didn’t have this issue, what the arc of our lives would be like. It would be totally different. There’s never been a depository for those stories. It’s been really rewarding to see.

 

What do you see in store for the future of the Women’s Equal Pay Network?

 S: First of all, we really have to focus on growing the social media platform and of course we need to focus on growing the story bank. But we really need to find a way to make people comfortable.   There really is a social stigma with talking about this issue. Getting women to share these stories has been really challenging, but once you do, they really open up. Some people have fifteen or twenty stories, not only their own, but they want to share others’ stories as well.

 

What are the best ways for others to get involved in the fight for equality in the workplace?

 S: Get involved with the Women’s Equal Pay Network! Get people to share stories. If you know of someone who is experiencing challenges with their work, we will also help someone who wants to file an EEOC charge. There is an unlimited license to use our logo. Stay aware of the news. Re-share it, re-tweet it, like it. The more people who see that we’re talking to each other, the more power we have together. There’s a power employers have in knowing women are too afraid to talk about this. By outing that, we eliminate that huge power.

L: I agree. It’s social media. Once you start to see everyone else doing it you want to jump on the bandwagon. This is the way people talk and this is the way they get their information. We need to get people to be comfortable sharing their stories. This is a unique place where people can take a moment and be heard about what’s happened to them. I think people don’t realize how many people it affects.

 

Are there any final things you’d like to say about employment inequality or the Women’s Equal Pay Network?

 S: If there are readers who are interested in becoming involved, all they have to do is type their story. We really want to get those stories.

L: It’s really important to share. You can do it anonymously, but share your stories.

If you’re interested in learning more, getting involved, or reading the stories, visit the Women’s Equal Pay Network at www.wepnetwork.com, and follow them on twitter @WEPNetwork

Persecution of Women in the Public Eye: How Much has Changed?

By Jackie Collens

That the lives and actions of men and women of notoriety are critiqued differently is no new concept. As we watch the media hype over Hillary Clinton’s potential second run at presidency, there are a number of questions I would like to pose:

For what reasons are women in the public eye persecuted today, and how is the language used against them different from, or similar to, that used to persecute women in the past? As a society, has our treatment of notable women improved, gotten worse, or remained the same?

I will be looking at media coverage and public discourse on Hillary Clinton as she is widely recognizable and has been in the public eye for a significant amount of time. The sexist language used during coverage of her presidential campaign in 2008 stirred up a great deal of debate, and as rumors arise that she may potentially run again in 2016, her actions continue to be scrutinized. In an article examining sexism in the coverage of the 2008 election, Joseph E. Uscinski and Lilly J. Goren collected a sample of comments made about Clinton by reporters on various news programs. They also looked at the different ways reporters referred to Clinton compared to other candidates.

A few noteworthy comments include Tucker Carlson’s, “I have often said, when she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs,” and Glenn Beck’s claim that her voice, “sounds like my wife saying, ‘take out the garbage.’”[1] Both of these comments play into familiar stereotypes not only of Hilary Clinton, but also of women in general who appear to have a significant amount of power, political or otherwise. This stereotype portrays these women as nagging, power-hungry, and overall threatening to the men that stand in their way. Uscinski and Goren also discovered that in discussions of Clinton’s candidacy, topics ranged from her laugh, to the pantsuits she wore, and her menstrual cycle; during an episode of The Chris Matthews Show, she was depicted with devil horns drawn onto her head.[2] As a woman in the public eye, Hillary Clinton has certainly seen her fair share of criticism using gendered language and stereotypes. Her presence and influence have drawn a great deal of negativity, much like other women in U.S. history who gained notoriety for stepping outside of their determined gender norms.

For the sake of historical comparison, I will be looking at the language used in discussions of the women participants in the Antinomian Controversy of the seventeenth century.[3] While the persecution of the women involved in the Antinomian Controversy stemmed from their religious beliefs, Hillary Clinton’s criticisms are generally within a political context. Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer are still notable for the attention they gained as outspoken women who became influential members of their communities, particularly because they were outspoken at a time when women were rarely able to play quite as direct a role in politics as they can today. Anne Hutchinson, perhaps the most recognizable figure of the Antinomian Controversy, has been discussed at great lengths in historical writings not only because she was a woman unafraid of sharing her ideas and opinions publicly, but because she did so in a manner that gained her loyal friends and followers. One such follower, Mary Dyer, became a similarly influential member of the movement in her own right. She was forced to leave the Massachusetts Bay Colony several times, and each time she returned, was faced with the possibility of being executed. In response to her actions, Dyer was described by her own husband as having, “inconsiderate madness.”[4]

The governor of Massachusetts, John Winthrop, remarked that she was, “notoriously infected,” by Antinomian doctrine, as well as, “censorious and troublesome.”[5] Perhaps some of the most interesting language used in discussing Mary Dyer’s life comes from the accounts surrounding her birthing of a deformed stillborn child; descriptions of the birth allude to the idea that this, “monstrous birth,” was a sign that Dyer herself was a monster or a witch, or that this event was God’s punishment for her heresy.[6] Another one of Hutchinson’s friends and followers, the midwife Jane Hawkins, had been denied membership by her local church and because of her behavior and mannerisms, was the subject of rumors suggesting she may have been associated with the devil. Indeed, by drawing comparisons between the language used to describe these women and that used when discussing public women today illuminates how absurd the media’s treatment of Clinton is today.

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As discussions of another potential presidential candidacy continue, the popular news media will no doubt continue to discuss Clinton’s every move. The nuances of the rhetoric aimed at women in the public eye during the 17th century and today may differ slightly, but overall it appears that not much has changed. When women past and present have chosen to speak their minds publicly, they have quite often been persecuted as mad, threatening, and even evil. While the historical examples discussed here only represent women from one area and period, surely there is something to be said about the fact that the criticisms used against them are still heard today.

[1] Joseph E. Uscinski and Lilly J. Goren, “What’s in a Name? Coverage of Senator Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic Primary,” Political Research Quarterly, 64:4 (2011): 885.

[2] Uscinski and Goren, “What’s in a Name?” 892.

[3] A religious and political conflict in the Massachusets Bay Colony from 1636 to 1638, between the colony’s ministers and magistrates and those who believed in the teachings of Free Grace Theology.

[4] Anne G. Myles, “From Monster to Martyr: Re-Presenting Mary Dyer,” Early American Literature, 36:1 (2001): 8.

[5] Emery John Battis, Saints and sectaries; Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian controversy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1962), 270.

[6] Myles, “From Monster to Martyr,” 3.

Rethinking Imposter Syndrome

By Jackie Collens

I was working an early morning shift at Wooddale Village Retirement Community in Sun City, Arizona the day I found out I had been accepted into the Women’s History graduate program at Sarah Lawrence. As readers might be able to gather based on the fact that I am currently writing this, I decided fairly quickly and easily that I would be attending in the fall. The week of orientation came and went, and my optimism about my place in this program soared. I spent my first weekend of the semester browsing through my required reading lists and talking to my friends back home about how stunning the campus was, and how anxious I was to really get started. Then all of a sudden, classes started, and my hopeful enthusiasm turned quickly to terrified self-doubt.

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As I’ve familiarized myself with the campus, my classmates, and the new material presented to me in each of my courses, I have felt a growing feeling inside of me that maybe I don’t deserve to be here as much as everyone else does. I have been struck by all of the insightful ideas my classmates have brought up during discussions. At the same time, I have found myself repeatedly questioning the worthiness of my own thoughts and allowing myself to sit in silence, fearful that what I have to say is simply not worthwhile. I have grown increasingly self-conscious that my experiences up to this point, educational or otherwise, are not on par with those of my peers. My worried reflection has driven me, on one or two occasions, to question the possibility that perhaps my admittance into this program was some kind of fluke.

Before I go on, let me take a moment to clarify one thing. When I made the decision to go to graduate school, I did not for one second think that it would be easy. I expected this to be an enriching time in my life when I would get a chance to develop the ideas I had conjured up as an undergraduate and turn them into work that I could be proud of. I also, however, expected nights of little to no sleep and days where I found time for nothing but reading and writing. I envisioned two years of headaches and homesickness and feeling mentally challenged like I had never been before. I found myself asking over and over again these past few weeks, “If I knew school was going to be like this, why do I feel so out of place?”

During one of my first days on campus, a classmate and I were discussing our nerves and apprehension about the our places in the program, and she mentioned the concept of Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome, or perceived fraudulence, is a psychological experience, “of perceived intellectual phoniness that is held by certain high-achieving adults who, despite their objective successes, fail to internalize these successes.”[1] It is a constant feeling that any and all of an individual’s accomplishments can be attributed to luck, chance, or some other external factor, but never to their own ability. Although there is some debate on the subject, it has often been suggested that imposter syndrome is far more commonly experienced by women than by men. Pauline R. Clance, the clinical psychologist who coined the term, originally suggested through her research that imposter syndrome, “occurs with much less frequency in men and that when it does occur, it is with much less intensity,” and so a number of her studies have focused primarily or completely on this experience among women.[2] More recent studies performed by Clance and others, however, have found that the phenomenon may be just as common in men. Catherine Cozzarelli and Brenda Major consider the possibility that various gendered societal expectations actually cause men to be less likely to express their feelings and experiences of imposter syndrome when asked, although they may be just as likely to have such experiences.[3]

I began to think more about this idea of perceived fraudulence, because as the days went by I continued to encounter it in some form or another. Slowly but surely I began to recall many other instances in my life when I had felt this very same way: from the time I won a poetry contest in fifth grade to the day I was offered my first job promotion. As I talked to more first year students, almost every one of them shared my feelings of being overwhelmed by our coursework, or intimidated by our classmates and professors. That first person who mentioned Imposter Syndrome early in the semester was not the last. Even as I shared my experiences with friends in different programs at different schools, I found that they were experiencing the same emotions.

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Fortunately, having had time to look into the idea of Imposter Syndrome and talk about it more in depth with some of my classmates, I have started to regain my optimism about my place in this program. If anything, these first few weeks have taught me a great deal about my current environment. While the work I have to look forward to over the next two years will be challenging, I am fortunate enough to have the chance to do it in a setting with peers I can share both my successes and failures with, and with professors who ultimately want to support me. Perhaps by focusing so heavily on my own nerves and doubts I allowed myself to forget what attracted me to this program, and more broadly, to feminism in the first place: the chance to expand my knowledge and the idea that my thoughts and opinions were worth sharing. I wish that I could say that I am writing this as someone who no longer feels like an imposter, but that isn’t necessarily true. I am still worried about my ability to produce meaningful ideas and work, but I also realize that I am attempting to do so in an amazing place that I worked hard to get to, just like everyone else here.

*Jackie Collens is a first year student in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College. She graduated from Arizona State University in the spring of 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in History and certificate in Women and Gender Studies. Her research thus far has focused primarily on the U.S. women’s suffrage movement as well as the lives of women during the Great Depression. In her free time, she enjoys binge-watching Bob’s Burgers, annoying her cats, and continuing on her lifelong quest to discover the world’s greatest sandwich.

[1] John Kolligian Jr. and Robert J. Sternberg, “Perceived Fraudulence in Young Adults: Is There An Imposter Syndrome?,” Journal of Personality Assessment 56 (1991): 309.

[2] Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne Ament Imes, “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention,” Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice 15 (1978): 241.

[3] Catharine Cozzarelli and Brenda Major, “Exploring the Validity of the Imposter Phenomenon,” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 9 (1990): 403.