Equal Pay Is Not Just A Women’s Issue, It’s A Family And Economic Issue Too

Today is Equal Pay Day, a day to spread awareness of the fact that in 2016, women still make 79 cents to a man’s dollar, a yearly gap of $10,762. Over the course of a woman’s lifetime, unequal pay costs her more than $400,000, and that’s only if she is white. For women of color, this gap is even higher. Paying a woman less simply because she’s a woman is unacceptable and it is imperative that as a country, we remedy these embarrassing statistics and recognize that equal pay affects everyone.

I’ve worked on the issue of equal pay throughout my career as a pollster and communications strategist. One consistent finding is that while in theory Americans widely support the concept of equal pay for equal work, there has not been as much energy around actually doing something about the issue. In my opinion, one barrier to raising the salience of the issue is in its framing. Until recently, equal pay was understood as a women’s issue, often falling under the category of gender equality or women’s rights issues. But in fact, equal pay is an economic issue that affects the security of American families everywhere.

Numerous studies have shown that equal pay for women would significantly boost the American economy—in one year, the U.S. would have produced $447.6 billion more income, and the poverty rate for working women would be cut in half. The income women bring in is also increasingly critical to the financial security of family units, and when women make less that means less money for groceries, gas, rent, college tuition and other things families need. When women are held back, families—who make up the backbone of our country– are held back too.

This morning I attended a Roundtable on Pay Equality, hosted by Glassdoor, featuring Hillary Clinton, Tracy Sturdivant of Make It Work, and other leaders across the business, political, and cultural spheres. The panel participants highlighted the work that needs to be done to ensure equal pay for equal work everywhere. The first item on the agenda is passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, a law that will help prevent retaliation against employees who inquire about wage practices or disclose their own pay. This law will also increase transparency and make wage data available, so that employees have the information and tools they need to advocate for equal pay.

One obstacle to making change through policy that Hillary Clinton pointed out is that we need better language and messaging to talk about this issue and dispel myths about why the wage gap exists. And as Tracy Sturdivant reminded us, we also need to talk about equal pay in tandem with other issues that will elevate women and families, like paid family leave and affordable childcare. Finally, we need to continue to reframe equal pay not as an issue that only affects women, but one that affects families and therefore our country.

Panelist Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, director of Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research, left the audience with a piece of advice that really resonated with me. She said that we cannot wait for legislative changes to happen, and that we need to work within our own companies and organizations to ensure we have policies and procedures that are fair and equal for all employees. Women in senior leadership positions need to mentor younger women and advocate for their advancement in companies. For those of us involved in performance reviews, we need to take a good look within and ask ourselves how we are evaluating employees and be honest about any implicit biases or assumptions we might be inserting into our reviews. We need to challenge our colleagues to do the same. The discussion was an important reminder to me and to others who are in positions of power in their own organizations that we have the responsibility to tear down the patriarchy from the inside as well.

Hillary Clinton and other panelists discuss equal pay at Glassdoor's Roundtable on Pay Equality
Hillary Clinton and other panelists discuss equal pay at Glassdoor’s Roundtable on Pay Equality

Sexual Harassment At Work- Why Women Stay Silent

I once managed an account that was the largest and most prestigious that my firm had ever won. When I got the assignment, I was so excited for the opportunities this account would bring, so long as I managed the project well. The project was challenging, for sure, and involved a much higher level of project and client management than most other engagements. Still, I was ready and willing to prove that not only could I handle this, I could kill it too.

And kill it I did. I convinced the client to budget millions of dollars for research, an amount that at the time was unheard of at my company. To kick off the project, we took a week-long trip to meet in-person with various stakeholders. I felt a little anxious about the trip, because it involved a ton of client management, and so much was at stake. I had interacted with our client contact a number of times, but spending a week together is very different than making small talk before meetings. Still, I felt confident I could make a good impression and show the client how well we could handle the project.

About a month before we were set to leave, I received an e-mail from our client contact asking which hotel my colleague and I had booked. We went back-and-forth on e-mail because the hotel we had chosen appeared sold out, so I suggested some alternative hotels close by. My client then replied, over work e-mail: “If those are sold out too, I guess I’ll just have to stay in your room.”

I remember I was traveling for another client at the time and was sitting in a hotel lobby when I received that e-mail. I audibly gasped, my body tensed up, and for a good two minutes I sat frozen in my seat. I couldn’t believe he had sent an e-mail like that, and so brazenly to boot. What was to stop me from forwarding what is clearly a sexually suggestive e-mail to my boss or his boss? Well that’s the thing—he knew I wouldn’t do anything about that e-mail, because speaking up would be career suicide. While this client did not have direct power or authority over me in the same way a direct boss or supervisor would, his influence over me and our firm was enormous.

All day, I went back and forth in my head about how to respond to his e-mail. I wanted to write him back and say that I would hope we can act professionally toward each other during the course of this engagement, but I was afraid of the repercussions of possibly offending him. I considered telling my boss about the situation, but decided against that too—though I had no doubt that my boss would take the e-mail very seriously and sympathize with me, his response would most likely be to take me off the account, for my own “comfort.” There is no way our firm would walk away from this client because of one suggestive e-mail.

So I ended up telling no one at work and going on the trip. I had considered making up some excuse for backing out of the trip and sending another colleague in my place, but I didn’t want to lose the opportunity that this trip meant for my career. So, apprehensively, I went.

Throughout the first part of the trip, I made sure I was never alone with the client and talked at length about my partner at home to make clear that I was in a serious, committed relationship. He acted professionally, and I never felt that he made any advances toward me, which was such a relief. In fact, half way through the trip I questioned whether or not I had read too far into that e-mail in the first place.

But it turns out, I didn’t. On the last night of the trip, the client tried to kiss me in the elevator. My co-worker and I took him out to a lavish dinner that night, followed by drinks at a lounge. We had been out for hours, and both my client and my co-worker had imbibed heavily. I was so surprised my co-worker would get intoxicated around a client, but then I remembered that as a man, he can do things that I simply cannot do. The client was drunk too, and he and my co-worker bonded throughout the night and had a great time together. If anything, getting drunk probably elevated my co-worker’s standing with our client.

At the end of the night, my co-worker went back to his room and left my client and me alone. When we got into the elevator, he turned to me and said with a tipsy smile, “You know, it was really wonderful having you on this trip.” I agreed, and the next thing I know he starts to dive in for a kiss. I pretended to drop my purse to avert him, and it worked. Right then, the doors to the elevator had opened, and I rushed out, yelling a hasty good night at the client before I booked it to my hotel room.

Returning home, I was a nervous wreck that the client might sabotage me if he was offended by my rejection. He could easily make up some excuse for why he didn’t want to work with me or preferred to work with someone else and my firm would happily oblige him without question. But luckily, that didn’t happen. I continued to work with him, and our relationship remained professionally strong. Did I get queasy every time I had to go to his office for a meeting? YES. Did my heart race every time I saw his name in my inbox? YUP. Continuing to work with him was very uncomfortable, but the consequences of speaking up about his harassment were not ones I was willing to deal with either.

Some people might say that what my client did was not harassment because I didn’t tell him to stop or let him know his advances were unwelcome. All I can say is what I feel, and I did feel violated because of our relative positions and the immense power he had over me and my career. And I knew that as much as I may have been a valuable employee at my firm, I wasn’t worth the millions of dollars my firm would lose had we given up the account because of his behavior.

Much time has passed, but I still think about this experience, and I’m angry that the choices I had to deal with the situation were not choices at all. And unfortunately, I am not alone. A recent study showed that 1 in 3 women ages 18-34 have been sexually harassed at work. And like me, very few women report instances of harassment, citing fear of retaliation as the reason for staying silent.

Workplace sexual harassment exacts a significant toll not only on women, but on all of us. Employers pay for harassment through lower productivity, increased absenteeism, and job turnover. Women are a critical component of the economy, and when women succeed, our country succeeds. It is imperative that we recognize sexual harassment as not a women’s problem, but as an economic problem that affects everyone.

Why Connecticut Should Legalize Pot

Growing up in a small town in Connecticut, there was little to do other than ride around in our cars looking for the next spot to party. The town I grew up in was wealthy, but a few of my friends came from disadvantaged circumstances. These were the kids who the cops singled out to arrest for underage drinking or marijuana possession. Read my article published in the Hartford Courant about why my home state of Connecticut should legalize marijuana– not only will it make our criminal justice system more fair, it will provide tremendous economic benefits to a state that is seriously suffering financially.

Voting For Mom: How Parenthood Affects Political Candidacy

As a graduate student at Rutgers University’s Women & Politics program, I conducted a lot of research on how being a parent (or being childless) works differently for male and female candidates. When I see I did “a lot of research,” I mean I wrote my entire dissertation on the subject and also published several academic articles and conference papers (links below). Here are some core insights from this research:

* Parental status matters in politics, though its effect on the candidacies of men and women is different. While for men, having children is most often an asset or additional credential, for women, motherhood most often functions as a liability.

* Compared to men, having children dampens women’s political ambition, as they are much more likely than men to weigh family considerations in their decision to run for office. Read my conference paper on political ambition and parental status here.

* Men are much more likely than women to use their children in their self-presentation–on the campaign trail, on their websites, and in advertisements. I wrote an article about it with my colleague and friend, Dr. Mona S. Kleinberg, that you can read here.

* Voters are most likely to penalize childless women compared to childless men as well as mothers and fathers. Childless women may be stereotyped as selfish, overly ambitious, and ill-equipped to deal with political issues that affect families and children. Voters also feel uncomfortable with mothers of young children running for office, thought their antipathy is not as strong as it is toward childless women. Read my article detailing the findings of this study here.

Voting For Hillary Because She’s A Woman Is A Perfectly Valid (Not To Mention Smart) Political Decision–And Here’s Why

This blog was originally published on Bustle, 5/7/15. See it here.

In 2008, I was a big HRC supporter, to the chagrin of many of my “progressive” friends who were voting for Obama. Back then, my friends, like many other Democrats, were in love with Barack Obama and what he represented to them — change and hope. Clinton’s “experience” platform did little to move voters in my cohort of young, well-educated Northeastern liberals. Some of my friends and colleagues in Rutgers’ Women and Politics department knew better and understood that the gender dynamics of the campaign very much influenced Clinton’s decision to run on experience — we know from political research that, all else equal, women are judged as less experienced and qualified as candidates compared to men, and because of this Clinton really had no other choice but to campaign on experience.

Throughout the primary season, I often found myself having to defend my choice to support Clinton. I cycled through what were the most common justifications at the time — Clinton would be ready on day one, and Obama hadn’t proved himself yet, was the most common reason I cited, which also happened to be what Clinton herself was saying. But looking back, the real reason I was voting for Clinton was something I was ashamed and discouraged from admitting — I voted for Clinton because she was a woman.

The media made a theme out of the black candidate running against the woman candidate, even though the multiplicity of each candidate’s identity (Obama is not simply black, he is a black man. Clinton is not simply a woman, but a white woman) was routinely ignored. Especially in my social network, the idea of voting for a woman candidate simply because she’s a woman was derided as short-sighted, even silly. But really, when it came down to it, Clinton’s gender is what truly distinguished my choice to vote for her over Obama, and it’s why I already know she will get my vote again in 2016. But this time I’m not ashamed to admit it, and here’s why.

Clinton’s gender is what truly distinguished my choice to vote for her over Obama, and it’s why I already know she will get my vote again in 2016.

Before I begin, I should say that I am a staunch Democrat and a proud liberal. I have made a career out of providing strategic advice to Democratic, pro-choice candidates. My partisanship and ideology are extremely meaningful to me, and I am passionate about electing leaders who I believe will advocate for social justice. I believe in a social safety net, I believe that health care is a human right that should be provided for all, and I believe that the government should provide a roadmap to citizenship for immigrants who are here illegally. So if Hillary Clinton were running under the Republican ticket, I would never vote for her. Like many other Americans, party trumps almost every other consideration for me when it comes to making a voting decision. However, when the choice is among Democrats in a presidential election, the woman candidate will get my vote.

Many Americans might lambast the idea of voting for a candidate based on descriptive characteristics like gender. We should vote for candidates based on their policy positions, we should extensively research each candidate, pay attention to the media, listen to what they candidates are saying, and then make a choice based on the information we’ve collected over the course of the campaign… right? The model of the rational “calculator,” who collects and digests a wealth of information about each candidate before making a well-informed, thoughtful choice may be the ideal model of decision-making in a democracy, but it is far from reality.

A wealth of political science research reveals that not only is the “rational calculator” model of a voter unrealistic, but that it doesn’t necessarily lead to a better decision than using “cues” or heuristics to make decisions. Research by political scientists Richard Lau and David Redlawsk has revealed that voters who base their decisions on one or more of the common cues voters use (party affiliation, endorsements, polls/viability, and candidate appearance) actually end up making the same decision they would make if they were fully informed, and had performed the “rational calculator” model of decision-making.

So based on the fact that most Americans do not base their decisions on rational, informed calculations but rather rely on cues, voting for Clinton because she’s a woman seems to be a good a reason to vote for a candidate as any. Who can forget the Bush voters in 2004 who would tell reporters that they were voting for him “because he just seems like a guy I could throw back a beer with?”

The reason why voters rely on cues, however, is not because they’re dumb or lazy, it’s because cues are an efficient way to process information and make good decisions. For example, if you know a candidate is a Democrat, the party “cue” can help voters infer much more about the candidate — more than likely, that candidate supports government assistance for low-income citizens, is pro-choice, and supports gay marriage, among several other policy positions. Cues don’t work 100 percent of the time — for example, there are a small minority of Democrats who are anti-choice — but they work often enough that voters can use them to make good decisions, as though they were well-informed.

How I Met My Husband When I Stopped Dating My Type

The author the day of her wedding.
The author the day of her wedding.

This post was originally published in Bustle, 2/12/16. See it here.

It was the night of Valentine’s Day, 10 years ago, when I met him in Washington, DC. I was there for a semester to study politics, though I probably learned more about which bars would accept my fake ID than I did anything else. My new-found girlfriends and I, all single, banded together for a night out. Though we complained about being boyfriend-less, we also reveled in our singledom and all the excitement that being 20 years old and unattached brings.

A few years before I got to DC was when I began to recognize the power in being young and attractive, and particularly how strong that power is over men. I flaunted my ability to flirt with a man all night, only to walk out of the bar before he could ask for my number. I loved playing these games and the high I felt after winning a man’s attention only to reject him. Of course, years later, I recognize that this narcissism and exercise of “power” only pointed to my own insecurities and low self-esteem at the time.

So it was in this context I met him, my first adult love. That Valentine’s night, we talked until three in the morning. He was everything I wanted, he checked off all the boxes—tall dark and handsome, incredibly smart, super liberal, and an Atheist (and willing to admit that proudly to a stranger), But more than the labels, I also admired the way he carried himself, with a confidence in himself and about the way he led his life. Finally, I had met my match, someone who I couldn’t readily dismiss, play games with, or conquer with my coquettish moves.

Our love affair that began in DC continued for three years after I left—he moved to New York to start a job as a lawyer, and on the weekends I took the train down from my college in Rhode Island to visit him. We went to Europe together that summer and spent two blissful weeks touring museums, drinking wine and smoking cigarettes at Parisian cafes, and hours upon hours in bed, sometimes making love but mostly wrapped in each other’s bodies, talking, laughing, and just feeling giddy.

The cracks in our relationship started to emerge after that first year. After the honeymoon period had come and gone, I was no longer his number one priority. In that first year, he used to literally run home from his office because he was so excited to see me—being away from me for eight hours was simply too much. But as cute as that sounds, making someone that central to your universe and becoming so dependent on them for your happiness is not sustainable. He started to develop habits that—in retrospect—were healthy, but at that time felt devastating to me. Instead of running back to me after work, he would go out for drinks with his new co-workers, and though he would invite me along, the tone in his voice told me I should stay home. He began to develop a life beyond our relationship, and while he made some efforts to include me, the revelation that he needed anyone outside of me or our love made me angry. Why wasn’t I enough? So I would pick fights. He would pull away. That only made me try harder to get close to him, to reign him back in, to make him want to sprint home to see me again. To reclaim my rightful place as the center of his universe.

Anyone who has experienced or witnessed this dynamic—one pulls away, the other just tries to get closer—knows it can only end badly. And it did. We fought constantly, blowout fights, the memories of which make me cringe. I once threw red wine at him and his white walls while he was incapacitated in bed after knee surgery. He once threw the entire contents of my wardrobe outside of his door in an effort to kick me out of his apartment. Because we knew each other so well, we knew what best to say to make the other’s heart break, to hurt each other at our cores. After too many incidents like this, we both knew it was over—there was no going back after all that damage. We were broken.

Breaking up with him felt like dying. And in a way, every break up is a death. How hard it hurts and how much you grieve depends on the relationship. For me, it felt like the death of a family member, and my whole world was turned upside down.

But as with many emotional wounds, time really does heal. When I was finally ready to date again, I felt confident that because I had learned so much from my past relationship, my next would be better. I was wrong.

I flitted through my twenties from boyfriend to boyfriend, no one really lasting more than a couple of months. These were the men I thought I wanted—successful, attractive, intelligent, liberal, Atheist, and confident. But for one reason or another, they didn’t work out. The reasons I gave at the time—he complained about his tax rate, he admitted to going to church on Christmas, he confuses there/their/they’re—my deal breakers, were really just excuses. In truth, because I was so scarred from my first relationship and knew too well the risks of making one’s self vulnerable to another, I was terrified of letting them get close to me. Most didn’t get past the second or third date, making their fatal error in a grammatically incorrect text. And if anything they did could be interpreted as even the slightest sign of disinterest in me, I fled. Even if whatever reason he cited for not calling me back in a timely manner was true, I was too scared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Then, after several years of this pattern of going through suitor after suitor, the men who checked off the boxes, I met a man my roommate would later dub, “All-American.” We started chatting at a bar, and I knew right away that I could check off the intelligence box—he was an attorney, but like me he studied political science in school, and could speak well to current events, with a liberal bent to his opinions (check, check, check). But on the other requirements, he fell a bit short. For one, though he was attractive, he looked unlike any of the men I dated before. While most looked very much like my first love—tall, dark, and lanky—he had light, freckled skin and was built like a football player—quite the opposite of lanky. That’s why my roommate and I dubbed him “The All-American Boy,” or AA for short, during text conversations or G-chats. The type of confidence he exuded was different too—far from being elitist or pretentious at all, he was quietly self-assured, and didn’t need to prove anything to anyone.

Having met so few of my requirements, I’m not sure exactly why I let him get past the first few dates. But there was something about him that made me feel different and didn’t let me dismiss him. He had a warmth about him that felt so comforting.

When I was with him, it was like being in his cocoon, protected from the outside world and from my own inner thoughts of inadequacy. My feelings toward him were so strong that I even gave him a pass when he admitted to me one drunken night that he might believe in Karma.

Once our relationship developed further, though, my destructive habits began to come out. I began picking him apart, looking for any excuse to flee. His socks never matched, he let his dishes sit in the sink for days, he’s not liberal enough, he doesn’t understand feminism, he didn’t get that joke fast enough. I got angry when he didn’t call me back within the hour or whenever he showed any sign that I was not the center of the universe, and particularly his.

His reaction to my behavior, however, was different. He didn’t throw me and my clothes out of his apartment but he also didn’t let me get away with it. He called me out, but in a respectful, kind way that I have come to love about him, because it makes me want to be a better person for him. He refused to follow my silly rules and expectations, but rather than get angry with me or run away, he simply did not participate in my own destruction. Yet despite this, he fundamentally accepted me. He saw some of my ugliest sides, but he loved me anyway, and he showed it. In time, his constant love and acceptance and the healthy boundaries he helped create gave way to a different me, and a different relationship.

First, I let him in emotionally. My guard came down. And it wasn’t as scary as I thought, because his acceptance reassured me. Second, I made active attempts to change my destructive habits that I discovered were rooted in my own insecurities. I stopped setting up my usual tests that were designed to make anyone fail. I stopped trying to coerce him into demonstrating, proving his love for me. I recognized that none of that was about him, or any man I dated, but about me, and my own ability to love myself.

He inspired me to become better, and he had the patience to see me through that process. Suddenly, the boxes he didn’t check off became less important. I realized that what I wanted was not what I needed. Who he was, and who he made me want to be, was far more important than anything else.

It’s been 10 years, a whole decade, since I met my first love who checked off all the boxes, who represented all I wanted in a partner. The person I was at that time would have never guessed that I would have ended up, 10 years later, with a husband who looks like a football player, might believe in Karma, and sometimes confuses their/they’re/there. But what I wanted in a mate, 10 Valentine’s Days ago, was not what I needed. And now, what I want, is exactly what I need.

The Bittersweet Reality of Planning a Wedding Amid Grief


This post was originally published in The Huffington Post, 7/15/15. See it here.

For many people in their late 20s like myself, the month of July means we are well into wedding season, that time of year when it seems nearly every weekend is devoted to weddings, showers, and bachelorette parties. The exorbitant expense and energy that weddings demand aside, the season is a joyous one, an exciting time as we watch our friends and loved ones move forward in their lives with their partners.

This year I am 29, and now my friends are traveling on weekends and spending money to attend my bachelorette party, bridal shower, and wedding. So in the midst of all of the wedding events I am attending for others, I am also planning my own with a partner I have been with for nearly four years, and who I love more than I thought I could ever love anyone.

But for me, and for my partner, Chuck, the meaning of weddings, including our own, has changed. People say that weddings tend to stir up the dull roots of family conflict or painful memories, and boy is that true for us.

Both of Chuck’s parents died in 2013 — his mother after a yearlong battle with brain cancer which she lost in April, days after her 69th birthday. Chuck’s father passed almost eight months later to the day, in December, of a sudden heart attack. He was 68. So for us, getting engaged and planning a wedding amid this loss and grief is a very different experience that few people understand.

I knew I would marry Chuck the day of his sister’s wedding, in 2012, about 8 months after we started dating. That weekend was when he found out his mother’s cancer was terminal, and that she had less than a year of life left.

I remember watching from the audience during the ceremony as he walked his dying mother down the aisle with tears in his eyes. Everyone else thought they were tears of joy for his sister, but they were tears of grief — for his mother, and for himself, and what he was about to lose.

I remember feeling a deep sadness and empathy for him in a way I’ve never felt for anyone before. I suddenly realized the meaning of something my father used to say to me when I was sick with the flu or when I stubbed my toe, screaming in agony only the way a child can. He said, if I could take away your pain and make myself feel it for you so you don’t have to, I would.

I felt that way about Chuck at his sister’s wedding — that I would absorb his pain if I could — and I knew that meant that I could never love someone as much as I loved this man, and that I wanted to spend my life with him as my partner.

He told me years later that the day of his sister’s wedding symbolizes the day that everything changed in his life — a marker of the tragedy, a day that he will remember as life changing, for the worst.

He’s had difficult moments at every wedding we have attended since his parent’s deaths, not only because weddings remind him of his sister’s and all the pain in his family that followed that day, but because of all of the wedding traditions that he will never experience — dancing with his mother, walking her down the aisle, his bride’s dance with his father. Moments that have been ripped from his future, never to return.

Now, we are in the midst of planning our own wedding. Bittersweet does not even begin to describe what this time in our lives is like. I’m not sure there is even a phrase for the simultaneous excitement, love and joy we feel coupled with the enormous sadness, dread and anxiety.

The wedding planning serves as a constant reminder to Chuck that his parents are gone and that they won’t be there on our day in October. This period has ushered in a fresh wave of grief that he is scared he will drown in. He’s so good at keeping himself above water, you’d never know the power below the surface that is constantly threatening to pull him down.

But I do.

I see it in his eyes that sometimes look so far away, and I can tell the feeling of loss is palpable in that moment, perhaps as he imagines looking out into the audience during our ceremony and wishing more than anything that he could see his parents in the front row. I can sense it in his voice when he talks about our guest list. I can hear the pain, his memory of the guests he wishes more than anyone else could be there.

A part of me feels guilty for wanting to have this wedding. I know he’s putting up with it mostly for me. I know that he’s excited about marrying me, but not for the sharp sting of grief he will inevitably feel that day. But a part of me feels bitter too, even resentful at times. A part of me takes it personally. But if there is one thing I have learned being the partner to someone who has experienced such a profound loss as Chuck, there is no way for me to truly understand what he is experiencing.

His bereavement is his own, and I must respect his feelings for what they are. To me, our wedding means a celebration of our love and commitment to our partnership. And although he and I share these positive associations, for him it is simultaneously a stark reminder of what he has lost, and what will never be.

What does one do as a bride-to-be of man with such torment in his soul? How do I approach our wedding? How do I approach our future? Will he sink into another depression when we get pregnant, at the thought that our children will never have grandparents? How do I, as his partner, function in this new normal of ours? A life that changed for both of us with his mother’s diagnosis.

A life that will never be the same.

When his parents died, my friends listened to my woes, nodding with sympathy. But they didn’t get it. How could they? We are all on the cusp of 30. Our parents aren’t dead, and they likely won’t be for a long time. Our parents will be at our weddings, we will dance with our fathers, our mothers will be there for our children’s births, and our children will spend weekends at their grandparents’ home.

I often feel alone, because while there are myriad resources for the children of parents who have passed, there is not much support for the partners of those children, especially partners that are young like me. And we really, really need it. I hope that my story gives others like me hope, or at least makes them feel less lost and alone.

Very fortunately, in the year since his parents passed, Chuck has demonstrated a remarkable resilience. For the most part, he is happy and excited about his future. We are silly in love and he is by far my favorite person to be around. And I feel confident that he is going to be an extraordinary husband, owed in part to the example of his parents and the beautiful partnership they built together and that their children witnessed.

But the death of his parents unmistakably changed him, permanently.

The letter Sheryl Sandberg wrote recently after her husband’s passing really resonated for me, especially her point that after such a profound loss things are not OK, and maybe some things won’t be OK, ever again. It’s such a bold statement, it flies in the face of conventional thought about how “everything will be OK eventually” or that “time heals.”

What Sandberg bravely acknowledged and what I know from my own experience, is that things might be OK, but they will never be the same. And some things will be sadder forever. Chuck will move on and experience key moments of life — his wedding, the purchase of our first home, the birth of our children — without his parents, and that’s not OK, and time may dull the sadness of that fact, but it will never erase it.

I think the key is an acceptance of this new reality. A proper mourning for what has been lost, and what will not be in the future. An embrace of the new normal. This process is where I find strength.

Acceptance is not easy. It happens gradually. I accept that certain days of the year — his parents’ birthdays, the anniversary of their deaths, holidays — will always have a different meaning.

I accept that Chuck will grieve for his parents on his wedding day. That the pure joy I feel reciting our vows may not mirror exactly what he feels. That his emotions are so complicated and complex, and that I may never actually understand them.

Acceptance, in its truest forms, really means moving on. It means being honest. It gives us permission to move forward. It allows us to heal.

Hillary Clinton Supporters Are Not Stupid For Caring About Gender

Originally published in The Huffington Post, 2/19/16. See it here.

Much has been made of the difference in support for Hillary Clinton among younger and older women. In the New Hampshire primary contest Clinton lost women overall, but a look at the breakdown by age is striking—a majority of women 45 and older backed Clinton, while more than 8 in 10 women under 30 supported Sanders. In response to Clinton’s poor showing among Millennial women, some prominent feminist leaders have suggested that younger women ought to recognize the gender barriers that Clinton has had to knock down on her way to where she is today, and that her struggle as a woman vying for power should be something we all recognize and respect. The media trounced on these comments and the backlash that followed—Maureen Dowd of the New York Times declared that Hillary Clinton has “killed” feminism, while other outlets quoted scores of young women who felt insulted by the suggestion that they should vote for Clinton solely because of her gender, because she has somehow “earned” this place in history or because she is “owed” their support. So many have been quick to extinguish any suggestion that women might be voting for Hillary because she is a woman—an idea derided as insulting to women’s intelligence.

But what the coverage of this issue fails to acknowledge is that for many voters, gender is an asset to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy—it may not the only reason they are voting for her, but it matters, because gender is still very relevant. The problem comes when Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is reduced to her gender, though even this idea is largely a falsehood perpetuated by a media narrative that pits women against women, rather than anything Hillary Clinton herself has said or done.

The truth is there are many reasons to vote for Hillary Clinton, and gender is one of them. Beyond the the historical marker of equality that her election to the U.S. presidency would signify, empirical research has demonstrated that on average, women leaders behave differently than men: they are more likely to build consensus, compromise, and collaborate—leadership qualities that would represent a welcome change to a Washington paralyzed by gridlock.

Women political leaders are also more likely to get things done and are 31 percent more effective than men at advancing legislation. In 2013, when the government was on the verge of shutting down, women Senators of both parties came together to work out a compromise that both Parties could get behind. In fact, the 20 women Senators who brokered the deal were widely credited for saving the government from shutdown—even John McCain (R-AZ) lauded them: “I am very proud that these women are stepping forward. Imagine what they could do if there were 50 of them.”

Indeed, imagine if the leader of the free world were one of them.

Women also tend to have different policy priorities and place a greater emphasis on issues that help families, women, and children, like paid family leave and raising the minimum wage. The differences in women’s leadership styles and policy priorities, however, are not simply due to the fact they have vaginas, but because of different lived experiences that they bring to their jobs. While we have come far as a country in providing the same opportunities to women and men, women still live their lives and experience the world differently than men do: women are still more likely to be the primary caregivers to children and elderly family members, have different health needs and concerns, and make up the vast majority of rape survivors. These are just a few of the many real differences in the realities of women and men’s lives, and different experiences means different priorities, needs, and perspectives.

As North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp once said of collaborating with female colleagues:

It is about getting people in a room with different life experiences who will look at things a little differently because they’re moms, because they’re daughters who’ve been taking care of senior moms, because they have a different life experience than a lot of senior guys in the room.

This is not to say that a man cannot advocate for policies that help women and families, but that they may not have the same understanding of these issues that women do.

The difference women make in office is a valid reason to give for supporting a candidate, and citing it does not mean it is the only reason nor the most important reason to support a candidate (though as I have written elsewhere, I believe it is perfectly OK if it is). But the narrative has been constructed in such a way that considering gender in political evaluations of candidates at all is deemed lazy or unintelligent, when in fact, there are compelling reasons why gender can and should matter in political decisions.

Clinton supporters would do well to message about gender in this way—that it is not the only reason to support Clinton and other women leaders, but it matters, and this is why. This is a much different conversation than talking about how Clinton is entitled to or owed support from women by virtue of being a woman herself, and it also allows for men to acknowledge how Clinton’s gender might positively factor into their support for her.

So the difference in support for Clinton among younger and older women does not represent a “schism” or divide among women as the media suggests; in fact, these differences have more to do with age differences than they do gender. But the conversation has illuminated that we need to find better ways to talk about gender’s relevancy in the public sphere.

The Media’s Coverage of Hillary Clinton Is Downright Irresponsible

Original article published by The Huffington Post on September 1, 2015. See it here.
HRC Wiki Commons
Casual observers of recent media coverage would reasonably conclude that the Hillary Clinton campaign is in serious trouble. Headlines across news sources allege her falling poll numbers and once secure spot of the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. But a closer inspection of the most recent poll by Quinnipiac University that has spawned the headlines “Hillary slips, Trump rises in national poll” and “Hillary Clinton Hits Lows on Favorability, Trustworthiness in new poll,” among hundreds of others, reveals a very different story–Hillary Clinton’s position is strong and her opponents are the ones who are in trouble.

Here is what the poll really shows about Clinton:

1. She wins the Democratic nomination handily: Clinton beats Sanders by a whopping 23 points (45 percent vs. 22 percent) and Biden by 27 points. For all the talk of Sanders’ surge and Biden’s popularity, Democratic voters overwhelmingly favor Clinton as their nominee.

2. She beats the Republicans: Clinton tops Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump in head-to-head match-ups. Curiously, this result didn’t even make it into Quinnipiac’s press release narrative.

3. She wins demographic groups that are key to success in 2016: Journalists have made much of Biden’s lead among Republican contenders, but a closer look at the data reveals that among key demographic groups that historically have decided elections, Clinton does better. This is especially true compared to Sanders, whose limited appeal to college-educated white men has been well-documented. For example, against Bush, Clinton claims 92 percent of the vote among African Americans, and 55 percent among Latinos. Biden only gets 84 percent of the African American vote, Sanders gets 79 percent. Less than half (49 percent) of Latinos prefer Sanders over Bush, a margin that would seriously hurt the Democrats’ chance of winning the White House. Clinton also outperforms among younger voters compared to Biden and Sanders.

4. Everyone’s favorability ratings are suffering: Clinton isn’t the only one with net negative favorability scores–voters also have negative impressions of both Bush and Trump. Clinton is also more liked among members of her Party (76 percent of Democrats give her a positive rating) than Bush and Trump among Republicans (59 percent favorable).

5. She is seen as a stronger leader than both Sanders and Biden: Lost in the buzz about her trustworthiness scores is an arguably even more important score–leadership qualities. A majority of voters (57 percent) say Clinton has strong leadership qualities compared to 35 percent who say the same about Sanders and 46 percent about Biden. The Clinton campaign still has time to improve Clinton’s image when it comes to perceptions of honesty, but leadership qualities and experience are different–either you have them or you don’t. Biden and Sanders aren’t going to be able to fake the impressive resume and qualifications that Clinton has. This may be why that although the media has emphasized the negative words voters associate with Clinton, words like “experience” and “strong” top the list too.

As political consultant Peter D. Rosenstein said of this poll and others: “Any candidate seeing numbers like Hillary has in those polls would be opening champagne and their opponents would be figuring out what they are doing wrong.” So why, then, does the media report otherwise?

I’m not the first to notice the media’s biased, even sometimes downright inaccurate coverage of Hillary Clinton. Journalists seem almost gleeful in their framing of Clinton’s “fall.” And I would be remiss not to mention how the idea of women like Hillary Clinton, who unabashedly seek power, make people uncomfortable, and sometimes angry.

The media’s power to set the agenda and frame issues is a powerful one, because it influences the public’s attitudes and political choices. Journalists have a choice in what they cover and how they cover it, and in this instance, many chose to focus on Clinton’s vulnerability. But as now should be clear, that’s not the whole story, and effectively this kind of journalism disservices the public. We rely on the news media for political information, and while in any process conducted by human beings, some level of bias is inevitable, the coverage of Clinton is more than just biased, it’s downright irresponsible.