Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation is a compilation of stories about women’s representation in politics, on boards, in sports and entertainment, in judicial offices and in the private sector in the U.S. and around the world—with a little gardening and goodwill mixed in for refreshment!
“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”—Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson’s seminal work Silent Spring, which was published in 1962, had a profound and enduring impact on the movement to protect the natural world from pesticides and a changing climate. In 2012, Eliza Griswold wrote a fascinating article about Carson’s life and work in The New York Times:
What was it that allowed Carson to capture the public imagination and to forge America’s environmental consciousness?
Saint Rachel, “the nun of nature,” as she is called, is frequently invoked in the name of one environmental cause or another, but few know much about her life and work. “People think she came out of nowhere to deliver this Jeremiad of ‘Silent Spring,’ but she had three massive best sellers about the sea before that,” McKibben says. “She was Jacques Cousteau before there was Jacques Cousteau.”
The sea held an immense appeal to a woman who grew up landlocked and poor as Carson did. She was born in 1907 in the boom of the Industrial Age about 18 miles up the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh, in the town of Springdale. From her bedroom window, she could see smoke billow from the stacks of the American Glue Factory, which slaughtered horses. The factory, the junkyard of its time, was located less than a mile away, down the gently sloping riverbank from the Carsons’ four-room log cabin. Passers-by could watch old horses file up a covered wooden ramp to their death. The smell of tankage, fertilizer made from horse parts, was so rank that, along with the mosquitoes that bred in the swampland near the riverbank called the Bottoms, it prevented Springdale’s 1,200 residents from sitting on their porches in the evening.
Her father, Robert Carson, was a ne’er-do-well whose ventures inevitably failed; Carson’s elder sister, Marian, did shift work in the town’s coal-fired power plant. Carson’s mother, Maria, the ambitious and embittered daughter of a Presbyterian minister, had great hopes that her youngest daughter, Rachel, could be educated and would escape Springdale. Rachel won a scholarship to Pennsylvania College for Women, now known as Chatham University, in Pittsburgh. After graduation, she moved to Baltimore, where she attended graduate school for zoology at Johns Hopkins University and completed a master’s degree before dropping out to help support her family. The Carsons fared even worse during the Depression, and they fled Springdale, leaving heavy debts behind.
Carson became a science editor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency founded under the New Deal. Eager to be a writer, she freelanced for The Atlantic and Reader’s Digest, among other publications. Driven by her love of the sea, she wrote on everything from where to go for summer vacation to what to do with the catch of the day to the life cycles of sea creatures. Carson believed that people would protect only what they loved, so she worked to establish a “sense of wonder” about nature. In her best-selling sea books — “The Sea Around Us,” “The Edge of the Sea” and “Under the Sea-Wind” — she used simple and sometimes sentimental narratives about the oceans to articulate sophisticated ideas about the inner workings of largely unseen things.
Carson was initially ambivalent about taking on what she referred to as “the poison book.” She didn’t see herself as an investigative reporter. By this time, she’d received the National Book Award for “The Sea Around Us” and established herself as the naturalist of her day. This was a much folksier and less controversial role than the one “the poison book” would put her in. Taking on some of the largest and most powerful industrial forces in the world would have been a daunting proposition for anyone, let alone a single woman of her generation. She tried to enlist other writers to tackle the dangers of pesticides. E.B. White, who was at The New Yorker, which serialized Carson’s major books, gently suggested that she investigate pesticides for The New Yorker herself. So she did.
“Silent Spring” begins with a myth, “A Fable for Tomorrow,” in which Carson describes “a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings.” Cognizant of connecting her ideal world to one that readers knew, Carson presents not a pristine wilderness but a town where people, roads and gutters coexist with nature — until a mysterious blight befalls this perfect place. “No witchcraft,” Carson writes, “no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves.”
Carson knew that her target audience of popular readers included scores of housewives. She relied upon this ready army of concerned citizens both as sources who discovered robins and squirrels poisoned by pesticides outside their back doors and as readers to whom she had to appeal. Consider this indelible image of a squirrel: “The head and neck were outstretched, and the mouth often contained dirt, suggesting that the dying animal had been biting at the ground.” Carson then asks her readers, “By acquiescing in an act that causes such suffering to a living creature, who among us is not diminished as a human being?”
There are of course millions of activists who have carried on the work that Rachel Carson helped to ignite, whose names we will never know. And a new generation of environmental leaders have emerged whose urgency to address our changing climate is reflected in Greta Thunberg‘s address to the United Nations in 2019:
This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!
You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!
For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.
You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.
The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5 degrees [Celsius], and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.
Fifty percent may be acceptable to you. But those numbers do not include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of equity and climate justice. They also rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tons of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist.
So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us — we who have to live with the consequences.
“o have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5 degrees global temperature rise – the best odds given by the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] – the world had 420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit back on Jan. 1st, 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatons.
How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just ‘business as usual’ and some technical solutions? With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone within less than 8 1/2 years.
There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures here today, because these numbers are too uncomfortable. And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.
You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.
We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.
Watch her powerful 2019 testimony here:
… and her House Oversight Committee testimony on Earth Day:
Climate activist @GretaThunberg fearlessly told lawmakers that their "legacies" were at stake in the race to combat climate change and advised them to "choose wisely" during a House Oversight Committee hearing regarding climate change and fossil fuel emissions on Earth Day. pic.twitter.com/teh0EPGfr0— Newsweek (@Newsweek) April 22, 2021
My daughter Rebecca Richie is the global teams lead for the Climate Clock project, started by Greta Thunberg, that tracks the number of years remaining until we are out of time to address climate change in any meaningful way. Becca is working with teams around the globe to install digital climate countdown clocks in prominent locations to remind everyone of the need for action:
The Lifeline and Deadline on the Climate Clock tell us what we need to do, by when. There is still time to avert climate disaster, but only if we take bold, immediate action at the speed and scale necessary – beyond what politicians have deemed politically possible. The Climate Emergency is here. The next ~7 years is humanity’s best window to enact bold, transformational changes in our global economy to avoid raising global temperature above 1.5ºC, a point of no return that science tells us will make the worst climate impacts likely inevitable.
The DEADLINE on the clock alerts us to the critical time window we have left to take the most meaningful action to combat it.
The new LIFELINE on the clock shows the percent of global energy coming from renewable sources – wind, water, solar, and bioenergy. The Renewable Energy Lifeline is currently at 12.2% and rising. However, it is not rising nearly fast enough to meet our deadline.
German Green party co-leader Annalena Baerbock will be one of the candidates vying to replace Angela Merkel according to this story in Al Jazeera:
The German Green Party has announced that Annalena Baerbock, its co-leader, will be its candidate to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor ahead of elections in September.
“Now begins a new chapter for our party, and if we do it well, for our country,” she told reporters on Monday.
Baerbock has called for a political renewal that will meet the challenges posed by a warming planet and deliver prosperity to all Germans, from poor single-parent families to industrial workers.
“Climate protection is the task of our time. The task of our generation,” she added.
Her candidacy comes at a moment when worries about climate change, frustration with the government’s pandemic response, and fatigue at 15 years of conservative rule have propelled the Greens to likely king-makers once votes are counted later this year.
But the Party’s ambitions lay higher still.
As it nips at the heels of Merkel’s panicked Christian Democratic Union in opinion polls, many are asking: Could a Green chancellor lead the world’s fourth-largest economy?
Baerbock’s green activism began at a young age, when she joined her parents in protesting against the dumping of nuclear waste in her home state, Lower Saxony.
A former trampolinist, she studied law before working in the office of an MEP in Brussels and then moving to the east German coal state of Brandenburg.
There, she quickly ascended the ranks, establishing a reputation as a sharp mind on climate policy and a confident media performer.
She became state chairperson at 28 and an MP at 33.
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Amanda Becker, Washington correspondent for The 19th, interviewed President Biden’s climate advisor Gina McCarthy about climate change and its connection to race and gender:
Amanda Becker: How does the role of national climate adviser differ from the other government positions related to climate that already existed?
Gina McCarthy: This role is specifically designed to make sure that all the other people working on climate are actually coordinating so there can be a real focus of attention. Climate is a very difficult issue to get your arms around, so it’s important that we talk about it and communicate to the public consistently in a way that they’ll understand and begin to embrace the solutions we have available already and the innovations that are within our grasp. I want people to get excited about climate, not as a problem, but as a problem that opens up huge opportunities. As a country, we’re struggling with inequities, we’re struggling with health challenges, we’re struggling with climate crises and in this pandemic. This is really, I think, our opportunity, across the federal government, to work together to give people hope.
You’ve described climate change as an “intersectional” issue. Can you explain why you see it that way?
This is one of the things that fascinated me and made me come in with President Biden into the administration. It was because for once we had a president that was looking at all the things that people needed, not a single issue. Climate change is not about the planet, it’s about people, and people need to have jobs, they need to be healthy, they need to be safe, they need a future that’s secure, and all of those things can be looked at with more than one lens. So if you look at the jobs plan, of course it’s about growing jobs, but there is a very conscious effort to make sure that there’s not a separate section on equality or equity or environmental justice or on climate. They are embedded into every piece of that plan.
Climate change is hitting the poorest communities, the tribal communities, the people of color, the most and the hardest, just like traditional pollutants. Pollution always impacts those most vulnerable, and that means that you have communities that, as a result of systemic racism, have been disinvested in for years. They’re living in areas where you can’t have access to good, healthy food, you don’t have access to health care the way others do, you don’t have a good and efficient home that’s all weatherized to live in. You have challenges that others don’t face, which means you have whole communities that have been left behind. President Biden, in his climate plan, said that at least 40 percent of the benefits of everything we do are going to be focused on those communities. He said that we’re going to address climate change but we’re going to do it in a way that grows jobs and brings equity front-and-center to the table. That was like music to my ears.
You have also said that climate justice and gender justice are inextricably linked. Could you talk a little bit more about that?
I believe it to be the case because I know who’s hurt first, and I know who bears the strain of the challenges that we’re facing, and it is overwhelmingly women, and especially poor women, especially women of color. They are facing some extreme challenges on how to balance life these days. We know that most of the caregivers in the United States are women of color and they are not paid nearly what they’re worth. Part of the American Jobs Plan is to actually invest in women, invest in our caregivers. It has resources on the table, not just to get schools and care centers up and running, but to invest in home care again, community care. It needs to be understood that in times like these, women are under incredible strain. They are often losing their positions because they’re caring for the kids. They’re all too often just trying to put food on the table. It is time for us to invest in women and it’s time for us to have a caregiving system that actually works for families. That’s what this is all about, and there is going to be more to come.
Intersectionality is also a key component of conversations about the upcoming election for mayor of London—which uses ranked-choice voting – and for the London General Assembly scheduled for May 6 according to this story in SW Londoner:
Polls will be open on 6 May for Londoners to elect a new mayor and LGA members, and Korina Holmes wants to see more representation for marginalised groups.
The London Assembly acts in the public interest by holding the mayor accountable to their policies and is a 25 member-elected body: 11 London-wide members who are voted in through proportional representation and 14 members who are elected by constituencies.
Holmes, 33, said: “As a mum, single parent, women of colour and someone from a marginalised group, it’s so important that we’re represented.
“Having one candidate who speaks for women in the London Assembly will make a huge difference to what we can do as a party.”
On this on side of the Atlantic conversations about how to advance women’s representation and leadership continue to mostly focus on preparing individual women to run but this piece by Richard Reeves of Brookings offers a persuasive argument for strategies that reform institutions and challenge gatekeepers to commit to recruiting more women to run:
As I wrote last year: “The fastest way to improve the U.S. ranking would be to for either President Trump or President Biden to follow Trudeau’s lead and appoint a balanced cabinet. Overnight, the global standing of the U.S. in terms of gender equality would be dramatically improved.” President Biden has delivered on this front, with the U.S almost reaching gender parity in cabinet as a result of him successfully fulfilling his promise to appoint a cabinet that “looks like America.”
In my essay last year, I compared the U.S. to our immediate neighbors, Canada and Mexico — both of whom were way ahead in terms of gender equality in politics. Now things look much more even. The chart below shows the overall score for political empowerment, as well as two of the variables that contribute to the score (ratio of women in parliament and ratio of women in ministerial positions), as compared for 2020 and 2021. As shown, in 2021, the ratio of women in the U.S. in ministerial positions is much closer to parity at .859, than it was in 2020, at .277.
But the U.S. should hardly be content with 30th place overall in the world, or with 37th place for equality in politics. To say that a woman president is overdue would be an understatement; witness the joy over managing at least the Vice Presidency for Kamala Harris. An ongoing commitment to a balanced Cabinet is also of course vitally important, as the recent WEF results demonstrate.
MORE GENDER PARITY IN CONGRESS: TIME FOR QUOTAS
That leaves Congress, where the U.S. is still well behind 59 other countries in terms of female representation, including many Western European countries, as well as Bangladesh, Namibia, Mexico, El Salvador and Senegal. Also ranked ahead of the U.S. for gender equality in politics in this year’s report was the United Arab Emirates, which leapt up the political equality table from 112th to 24th in the world following an increase in female representation from 23% in the 2019 report to gender parity at 50% today — a doubling in female parliamentary representation in just two years.
What lies behind UAE’s dramatic improvement? The short answer is: an order from the top. In 2019, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, issued Presidential Resolution No. (1) ordering equal representation of Emirati women in the Federal National Council.
While UAE is an unusual case, other nations have achieved similar increases, on a slightly slower timetable, using a range of other approaches — including quotas. Since 2014, the Mexican constitution, for example, has required gender parity among candidates from all political parties for positions in the federal Chamber of Deputies and Senate.
In my previous essay, I argued in favor of quotas, which clearly improve gender equality with no loss in the quality of legislators (if anything, the opposite). “Quota laws work,” says Sofia Alessandra Ramirez of the Council on Foreign Relations. In fact, more than half the countries in the world now use some form of quota system to increase female representation.
The problem in the U.S is that even if legislation could be passed, it would almost certainly be struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Nothing, however, is to stop the major political parties from adopting such quotas themselves — like parties in many other countries. It is reasonable to think that the Democrats might consider such a policy first.
After all, if President Biden believes it is important to have a Cabinet that looks like America, shouldn’t we want a Congress that looks the same way? Quotas are a blunt tool, to be used with great care — and which hopefully will become unnecessary in the longer term. But when it comes to ensuring greater representativeness in our Representatives in terms of gender, the case for quotas is strong. Then the U.S. might move further up the equality table. Would we settle for being 30th in the world on any other metric?
Sharon Waxman, editor of The Wrap, interviewed Oscar-nominated Emerald Fennell about her film Promising Young Woman (See also: Ms.’s review of the feminist rape-revenge film):
For Fennell, the idea for the film stemmed from conversations she’d had with friends about their own brushes with sexual abuse. In fact, she said, she doesn’t know a single woman who hasn’t had an uncomfortable experience, she said.
“It was just growing up in a world where it was just a joke — women’s bodies and having access to them and seeing them and touching them, it was part of the culture of movies and TV shows. It was part of the banter culture of school and of university and of being a young woman, that it was all kind of fair game,” she said. “There’s something profoundly disturbing about how completely endemic this idea is that if you got drunk at a party, whatever happened was kind of your problem, basically.”
Six or seven years ago, Fennell was at a dinner party with men and women she’d known as a teenager, and one of the women had an “achy experience” on the train getting to the party.
“It was, I suppose, what you would [classify] as everyday sexism. It was just that slightly uncomfortable thing,” the director recalled. “And that brought in the kind of avalanche of stories that we all have and had. The stories themselves, sadly, weren’t remarkable because I think it’s something that we’re so used to, horribly. But what was quite remarkable to me was how the man in the room was so shocked by it. It kind of made me feel that they had, to some extent, been… not protected from it, but they just were not aware of it. There was the profound feeling that, they were like, ‘Well, we thought everything was fine.’”
Fennell is taking men’s behaviors to task with her film, which secured five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director.
“This is as common as it’s ever been,” Fennell said. “And so I suppose the thing that was very disturbing to me, and that was important about making this film, was touching on what happens when as a society, we just kind of agree that something is fine and it’s a gray area and it’s icky, not great. The behavior of the men in this film is behavior that happens in every nightclub, at every party, all over the world. We’re not talking about villains, snatching people off the streets, but talking about handsome men who you like and who know that there’s a kind of loophole that they’re willing to exploit.”
While the Academy of Motion Pictures still has a majority While male electorate I so respect the fact that they are committed to expanding the number of Oscar voters.
Even more exciting is the use of gender categories or quotas that ensure women are nominated and win, and the use ranked-choice voting for the nomination process.
Below are some of the women nominated this year:
Suffice it to say, if gender categories, quotas and ranked-choice voting are used to ensure fair outcomes in the entertainment world, the general public might be willing to accept them in the world of politics as well!
RepresentWomen board chair Mehrnaz Teymourian introduced me to Iranian cotton candy and other delicious treats that sweetened our planning session for the work ahead!
That’s all for this week my friends.
P.S. My garden is thriving despite some chilly temps this week: