Is gender stifling our scientific imaginations?

This week, we showcase Conceiving Masculinity author Liberty Walther Barnes’ recent TEDx talk at Cambridge University. 

Is Gender a Liquid or a Solid?

In sociology we like to say that gender is “flexible and fluid,” because gender norms change over time and across cultures.  Men and women can choose to enact, perform, and express masculinity and femininity in a variety of ways regardless of their sex chromosomes or anatomy.  Just as liquids take the shape of their containers, we can shape our gender identities to fit us.

While personal gender identities and expressions are malleable, the gender system that structures our social world has proven able to withstand some pretty impressive seismic shifts. As sociologists Cecilia Ridgeway and Shelley Correll explain, the gender system is a large apparatus that determines who gets access to resources and opportunities. The gender system – invisible yet ubiquitous – is solidly grounded in very traditional gender beliefs, which prevent the system from being toppled. Because gender beliefs are pervasive and durable, we might say gender is a solid.

Conceiving MasculinityMost of us agree that gender stereotypes are silly. We laugh when people break the “rules” of gender in TV sit-coms and films. In our everyday lives we feel free to break the rules of gender to accommodate our personal preferences and life goals. In other words, we appreciate the fluidity of gender.

While researching male infertility for my book, Conceiving Masculinity, I discovered that gender is a more powerful social category than most of us realize. Just how solid is gender? As I explain in my TEDx talk, when gender and science come crashing together, something’s gotta give. And it’s not gender.

Gender, it turns out, is a stronger, more solid, and more powerful social category than science. Whodathunkit? Science is rigorous and robust, defined by hard facts and well researched, evidence-based truths, right? If we had to categorize science as a liquid or a solid, we would certainly call it a solid.

However, gender beliefs shape science. How we think about men and women, masculinity and femininity, channels the direction of scientific thought and shapes medical practices. Sometimes society has a hard time accepting scientific truths when they are glaring us in the face, because we cling to gender ideology. Rather than reconsider our gender beliefs, we bend science to accommodate our timeworn gender beliefs.

Appreciating Philadelphia’s Mural Arts @ 30

In this blog entry, David Updike, co-editor of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts @ 30, offers his thoughts on the book and what he learned about Mural Arts along the way.

I think it’s safe to say that over the last thirty years, Philadelphia has become a city of murals. As you crisscross the city, you find them in just about every neighborhood, often where you’d least expect them. They’ve become a part of our landscape, and something that people here and elsewhere associate with Philadelphia. A lot of the credit for that goes to Jane Golden, because it wouldn’t have happened without her energy and her vision, but it also wouldn’t have been possible if the city itself hadn’t embraced the idea that public art matters. And it matters, not just because it improves our aesthetic environment, but more importantly, because it has a lasting impact on the people who participate in the process.

The Mural Arts offices are a buzzing hive of activity. In the hallways you pass a steady stream of people coming and going, to and from mural sites, or classes, or canvassing neighborhoods. And these are people who, to borrow an old phrase from Bill Clinton, look like Philadelphia. They’re young and old, they’re black, white, Asian, Hispanic. And they all carry themselves with a sense of purpose. In the gallery downstairs you’ll see exhibitions of art—some of it quite remarkable—made by everyone from elementary school students to inmates serving life sentences at Graterford. And then there’s the room upstairs with the very skylight under which Thomas Eakins painted The Gross Clinic. And I suspect that our city’s greatest painter, were he alive today, would approve of this populist endeavor, which seeks to embrace the city he loved in all of its aspects.

I’m very fortunate to work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of our city’s other great cultural institutions. And it occurred to me as I started working on this book that, in a way, the Art Museum and the Mural Arts Program have opposite but entirely complementary missions. At the Museum we work very hard to get people to come to us and experience great art. But Mural Arts brings art to the people in the places where they live and work. And what Mural Arts brings to these communities is not a particular product or aesthetic. Rather, it’s a process of engagement and dialogue and co-creation that takes place over months and years, and whose effects remain long after the paint on the walls has dried.

Phila Mural Arts 30_smThis book seeks, above all else, to document what takes place off the walls. And really, this gets to the heart and soul of what Mural Arts does. Yes, it’s about transforming places, but mostly it’s about transforming people. We wanted to look at that process and its effects through many lenses, so we brought together a diverse group of authors from different disciplines—social sciences, public health, art education, restorative justice—to paint as broad a picture as possible of what a socially engaged art practice looks like, and what it can do, especially when it works in tandem with other organizations to address big issues like homelessness, youth violence, or urban blight.

In the book, Jeremy Nowack aptly refers to what happens in the course of creating a mural as a kind of “social contract” that arises between all of the stakeholders involved in a project—neighbors, business owners, community leaders, schools, artists. And the key word here is “stakeholders.” People feel a sense of investment and ownership in the murals. They take pride in them. They show them off to visitors. New stories and rituals grow up around them. People now ride the Market-Frankford El in West Philly just to see Steve Powers’ 50 Love Letters unfold. Inspired by the murals, couples have gotten engaged and even married on that 20-block stretch along Market Street.

Other stories around the murals are more painful, more challenging, but also rewarding in ways that aren’t necessarily visible to someone looking only at the end result. A particularly poignant example is James Burns’s Finding the Light Within, which took on the issue of youth suicide, not just with a very powerful and personal mural, but also with community meetings, writing workshops, collage workshops, and a participatory blog, all of which provided safe, supportive spaces in which survivors could share their stories. More than 800 people participated in those activities, and hopefully found some measure of healing in the process.

Elizabeth Thomas begins her essay with a provocative question: “Who makes culture?” In other words, Who decides what messages we see and read and hear? Whose stories count? Every day we’re bombarded by images and messages that tell us what we should wear, eat, drink, watch, listen to. But how often do we see our own struggles and achievements reflected in our environment, or our own stories projected into the public discourse? Socially engaged art practice has begun to address this problem of who gets represented—and who does the representing—in public culture. It’s happening in different ways in different cities around the country, but in Philadelphia its most visible proponent is the Mural Arts Program.

Much of the work that Mural Arts has done in recent years has sought to expand the definition of what a mural is and what it can do. For the mural project called Peace Is a Haiku Song, the poet Sonia Sanchez initiated what became, in essence, a citywide collaborative poem cycle. She began with a mental image of haiku by children hanging like cherry blossoms from the trees in Philadelphia. This evolved into an invitation to people of all ages to contribute poems in a series of community workshops and through a dedicated website. The poems didn’t end up hanging from the trees, but many of them ended up on posters around the city that were created by youth working with graphic designer Tony Smyrski.

The experience of seeing your own words and your own images projected into the world is an empowering one, especially for young people. As Cynthia Weiss points out, kids participating in mural projects often gain practical, real-world skills, like photography and graphic design. But they also gain a sense of agency that may be hard to come by elsewhere in their lives. And that type of experience can have a lasting impact on a person’s life in ways that we’re really only beginning to understand.

This is the essence of what Mural Arts does. It’s about creating situations in which people are drawn out of their everyday selves and both challenged and empowered to reach for something more. So while this book marks a milestone in the history of the Mural Arts Program, our hope is that it also points the way forward for others who want to use the power of art to change things for the better.

To listen to a podcast of David Updike and Jane Golden’s presentation at the Free Library of Philadelphia from March 26, click here: http://libwww.freelibrary.org/authorevents/podcast.cfm?podcastID=1216

What the “Writers Matter” Approach is all About

In this blog entry, Deborah Yost, Robert Vogel, and Kimberly Lewinski, co-authors of Empowering Young Writers discuss their successful program that helps improve students’ skills in the context of personal growth.

Why do many students lack motivation to write or perfect their writing in school? Could it be that school-based writing tasks are boring, unrelated to young adolescents’ personal experiences, and focused on the five-paragraph structure learned over and over in school from elementary to high school? We know that kids write all of the time through blogs, twitter, and texts. How can we captivate their motivation to learn how to write and write well in school?

MAP_WM_AT_KINGThe Writers Matter approach provides a unique and innovative opportunity for elementary, middle, and lower high school students to learn critical writing skills using journal writing as a vehicle for self-expression. Through writing about their lives, the students find an effective emotional outlet at a time in their lives when personal expression and having their voices heard is so important. Writers Matter is a motivational strategy that encourages students to share personal stories with each other, listen to other voices, and develop effective personal relationships with peers to provide more tolerance and appreciation of diversity. The approach, integrated into existing content areas of the curriculum, helps teachers meet the Common Core Standards for literacy.

Empowering Young Writers_smThe Empowering Young Writers book recently published by Temple University Press provides the reader with practical ways to implement Writers Matter beginning with major themes such as “I am From…” “Teen Challenges…”“Family Matters…” connect to an adolescent desire to express who they are, as they search for identity. As students begin to learn about themselves and others we further explore other themes such as “Living Life…” and “Dreams, Aspirations, and the Future….” to help the students move into a more global perspective of who they are in this world and what they can do to change it.  We have found that using intriguing, adolescent-based themes leads to a strong interest in writing as students typically want to voice their opinions and explore their and others’ identities.

Our research has shown that when students become authors and share their work with peers, a more trusting classroom climate emerges, which enhances peer-peer and teacher-student relationships. When relationships among teachers and students in a classroom setting increase, positive classroom management and greater achievement among students occurs. Integrating writing into content areas based on themes, helps students to see how their lives connect to the curriculum as they engage in multiple perspective taking that breaks down cultural barriers and “cliques” that are part of the adolescent experience. Research focused on writing skill development using the PA System of School Assessment Writing Rubric has also demonstrated writing achievement gains over time. This is likely due to increased motivation to write focused on personal experiences, and focus on process writing techniques.

A major focus of this approach is the use of “Writers Workshops” to improve writing skills through multiple drafts, conferences, and mini-lessons designed to individualize instruction to meet the needs of students based on individual progress. Students are empowered to improve writing since the focus is on becoming authentic writers based on personal topics connected to their daily lives. As authors, students write for a purpose in much the same way as authors typically by sharing their work in a public forum or writing for a school or class publication.

Monthly teacher interactive professional development sessions are held at La Salle University throughout the school year to support teachers’ use of this approach and to allow opportunities for sharing.

Publications – Empowering Young Writers recently published by Temple University Press  and Voices of Teens: Writers Matter (2008), with Michael Galbraith that was published by the National Middle School Association.  Since 2005, over 7000 students have participated from over 20 schools in the Philadelphia region. This year (2013-2014) over 1100 students, 16 teachers, and 9 schools are involved.  Additionally, we are piloting an after-school Writers Matter Program at Wagner Middle School utilizing university mentors to provide additional writing support.

Website – www.lasalle.edu/writersmatter 

We would like to hear your views on motivating students to write and improve their writing skills.

The NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work — Non-Fiction

Temple University Press congratulates Envisioning Emancipation authors Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer for being named Outstanding Literary Work – Non-Fiction at the NAACP Image Awards February 21.

Envisioning Emancipation_smBarbara Krauthamer, who attended the ceremony, gave the following acceptance speech:

Thank you to the NAACP and to everybody. It is wonderful to be here.  My co-author Dr. Deborah Willis could not be here, but I know that she joins me in thanking all of you. We’d like to thank our editor Janet Francendese and everybody at Temple University Press; all of the librarians and archivists who helped us.  When we dreamed of this book ten years ago we wanted to create a collective family album of photographs that showed African American survival, dignity and beauty, even through the most trying times of slavery and the triumph of emancipation and freedom.  Thank you, and we wanted to dedicate this to our mothers and to those who made a way when there was no way so we could be here today.  Thank you.
And here are some images from the NAACP Image Awards ceremony:

BK screen BK statue photo 2 BK with award

 

Don’t Just Read Our Authors, Watch Them!

This week, we showcase a quartet of videos featuring Temple University Press authors talking about their books. Natalie Byfield revists the case of the Central Park Five, in her new book, Savage Portrayals; Tom Foster discusses Sex and the Founding Fathers; Karla Erickson talks about How We Die Now, and Dean Bartoli Smith answers Cullen Little’s questions about the Baltimore Ravens, the topic of his book,  Never Easy, Never Pretty.

Natalie Byfield, Savage Portrayals

From her perspective as a black, female reporter for the New York Daily News during the Central Park Five trial, Natalie Byfield shows how the media’s racialized coverage of the Central Park Jogger case influenced the conviction of five young minority men accused of “wilding” and affected the American juvenile justice system.  She recalls her experiences here:

Thomas Foster, Sex and the Founding Fathers

In this video, Foster explains why we are so interested in the private lives of public historical figures, and how the desire to know the “real” Founders has influenced the stories we tell and remember.  

Karla Erickson, How We Die Now

Here, Karla Erickson explains what prompted her to write about death and dying and the myths she debunks about “the longevity revolution.”  

Dean Bartoli Smith, Never Easy, Never Pretty

The author sits down with sports writer Cullen Little to discuss the Ravens and more.   

Riot Grrrl’s Second Act

In this blog entry, Kate Eichhorn, author of The Archival Turn in Feminism: Outrage in Order, writes about the renewed interest in Riot Grrrl music, celebrities, and histories over the past year and asks: Is it about more than nostalgia?

Carrie Brownstein, riot grrrl musician turned sketch comedian (most recently, of Portlandia fame), frequently finds herself fielding interviewer’s questions about a Sleater Kinney reunion. Over the years, Brownstein has carefully evaded the question, neither ruling it out nor confirming rumors of her former band—arguably the most successful act to come out of the West Coast Riot Grrrl music scene in the 1990s—reuniting. Brownstein’s evasion of the reunion question is not surprising. In the temporally-sensitive world of popular music, any band that “comes back” is a band who has already gone away.

Whether or not Brownstein and her former bandmates reunite in 2014, the timing couldn’t be better. Over the past twelve months, Riot Grrrl music, celebrities and histories have received a lot of airplay, screen time and ink. In March, filmmaker Sini Anderson released The Punk Singer, a biopic about Kathleen Hanna featuring new and archival footage of Hanna and her former bandmates, friends and allies. A few months later, Lisa Darms, Senior Archivist at NYU’s Fales Library & Special Collections, published The Riot Grrrl Collection. A museum-catalog-style volume focused on NYU’s Riot Grrrl Collection, the book offers fans and researchers a glimpse into some of the ‘zines, posters and printed ephemera that helped to define the Riot Grrrl movement. Then, in September, Hanna released Run Fast with her new band sporting an old name, The Julie Ruin (the band’s name references one of Hanna’s earlier solo projects).

Eichorn.inddBut why Riot Grrrl again and why now? Is it, as some critics have suggested, simply about nostalgia?

Nostalgia has a bad reputation. Nostalgia is apparently not only a clever attempt to sell back to us the cultural detritus of past eras but a desire for something that never existed. And as it turns out, nostalgia is equally reviled by cultural critics (see Fredric Jameson for starters) and musicians. On the sixth track of Sleater Kinney’s final album, The Woods (released in 2005), the band belts out the following cynical lyrics,

You come around looking 1984
You’re such a bore, 1984
Nostalgia, you’re using it like a whore
It’s better than before

So has Riot Grrrl simply come around again looking, in this case, 1994?

When recently asked if she ever feels nostalgic for the 1990s, Brownstein explained, “Nostalgia is a very tricky thing. I always find that nostalgia is sort of like memory without the pain. And that’s why it feels so good to kind of bask in that, and I think it can be deceptively comforting” (Stereogum, January 6, 2014). When asked a similar question in a interview about her new album, however, Hanna was somewhat more optimistic: “If nostalgia is how people find things, that’s fine… And if people want to think it was an awesome time and they want to thank me and want to say how great I am, I’ll take it because there weren’t a lot of people thanking me and telling me how great I am at the time in a public forum” (Self-titled, December 2, 2013). What Brownstein’s and Hanna’s comments bring into relief is the complex ways in which nostalgia operates, especially when both music and politics are on the table.

When Riot Grrrl emerged in the early 1990s, many bands were still peddling their own audio cassettes off the end of the stage. The sound and style was raw and often inflected by a DIY philosophy. By the time Sleater Kinney released their final album in 2005, however, the sound and style of the bands associated with the Riot Grrrl scene had changed drastically, and many of the movement’s musicians were gaining increased recognition from mainstream music critics. If there is a demand for at least some of these musicians and bands to get back in stage, it is not necessarily driven by nostalgia for what Riot Grrrl was but rather for the music scene it eventually became.

Similarly, while interest in Anderson’s biopic or the Riot Grrrl Collection may be at least partially driven by nostalgia, there is no reason to conclude that enthusiasm for these projects is purely about a longing for another place and time. Sifting through files in the Riot Grrrl Collection, one quickly realizes that riot grrrls were not only creating a new sound and style, they were actively mining second wave feminist archives for inspiration, ideas, tactics and imagery. From clip art taken directly out of 1970s radical feminist newspapers and newsletters to song lyrics pilfered from earlier women-fronted bands, Riot Grrrl was also a savvy, sometimes ironic but respectful recycling and rethinking of past forms of feminist activism and women’s cultural production.

For all these reasons, as fans, both old and new, line up to watch The Punk Singer and dream up excuses to visit the Riot Grrrl Collection, rather than assume they are merely nostalgic for something they miss—or simply missed–perhaps we should hold open the possibility of that Riot Grrrl’s “second act” will serve as a stage for the next feminist cultural revolution.

Remembering and Honoring the Late Adrienne Asch

Adrienne Asch, co-editor with Michelle Fine, of Women with Disabilitiesrecently lost her battle against cancer. In this blog entry, friends and colleagues remember  and honor the late Temple University Press author and disability activist.

“Adrienne Asch was brilliant, funny, and provocative. In the early 1970s, just after abortion rights were secured, she would turn to me and say, ‘We need to write on disability justice and abortion rights.’ When the families of babies with spina bifida were denying them treatment at birth, she would say to me, ‘We need to write on the autonomy and human rights of these babies.’ With wisdom and reflection, Adrienne dared to enter intellectual and political territory that others (including me) feared. Gifted with an outstanding mind and a compassionate heart, she was patient with my stumbling responses: But what about the consequences of such writings? And might these efforts be used against women’s rights? Or against families’ rights?  Together we navigated politically and ethically treacherous territory, gently carving a space for dialogue and debate, honoring sacred rights to reproductive freedom and to disability justice.  She held my hand as we wandered with pen and paper into territory where varied social justice movements sat in silent tension. This is perhaps just one instance of the myriad ways in which Adrienne transformed my life. women with disabilitiesShe was a friend and a colleague who taught me about music, food, the depths of loyalty, the significance of thinking deeply and dangerously about what is and what could be. We would walk across the street, and strangers would grab her arm and escort her in another direction—all in the name of ‘care.’ She was outraged; for years I would secretly apologize to these strangers after her brusque response.  Soon I too took offense, stopped apologizing, and appreciated the incredible patience she exercised with those of us who are temporarily able bodied, deluded by our own sense of ‘innocence’ and ‘care.’ I miss her much, owe her much, love her always.”—Michelle Fine, coeditor of Women with Disabilities 

“Adrienne was a brilliant thinker on so many topics; women and disability, the area in which I worked most closely with her, was just the tip of the iceberg. But aside from her many professional accomplishments—her resume was 33 pages—she had an extraordinarily large, diverse network of friends, who stayed in close touch with her virtually as well as literally—some traveling from across the country and around the world—during the last months of her life. In the last few weeks, her bedside was crowded with people from all walks of life who shared stories and remembrances, read aloud some of her many writings, organized early music concerts, participated in Shabbat services, and were just there for her.  There are enough Friends of Adrienne, as we were called, to form a small town and definitely a community. Her death is an irreparable loss to all of us who knew her and to so many fields to which she made major contributions—disability rights/studies, women and disability, reproductive rights, bioethics, and numerous others.”—Harilyn Rousso, author of Don’t Call me Inspirational

“I have known Adrienne since I was seventeen, and she a year older.  My relationship to her was a personal, and not a professional one.  She came to my wedding, knew all my children from birth, and developed her own independent relationship with them over the years.  Despite our never living in the same city, and often not the same country, we always stayed in touch with telephone calls and visits, and of course since the advent of email, in that way as well.  I may be one of the few people who did not develop that personal relationship out of a professional one.  She dated my brother in high school, and I think we both assumed she might be my sister-in-law one day.  Instead, we became sisterly without the assistance of my brother, and shared over the many years we have known each other the ups and downs of relationships, and the happinesses and setbacks of life.  We shared a deep love of Judaism, and of Jewish liturgical music.  We went to syngogogue together during our visits, and attended our first Havurah Institute together in 2000, and then continued to attend together over the next few years.  She went on to become a board member of the Institute.  Adrienne never did things half-way.  Of course I have read Adrienne’s books, and some of her many articles, and attended the “famous” Peter Singer debate at Darmouth.  And of course we have talked about the issues for which Adrienne is so well known—prenatal testing, abortion, surrogate motherhood, disability.  But mostly, we lived into some of those issues together in our real lives.   Adrienne also shared in my life as well—she never forgot  single important date in my life, and came to every single important event she could.  She was as rigorous in maintaining the work of our friendship as she was about her professional work.  That we never lost touch, even when I lived in Canada and Israel, is to her credit.  She came to visit me wherever I, and my family, was.  I will miss our long telephone calls, her taking my arm when we walked as a concession to me and my fear of tripping over her cane. I will even miss her despair and anger when she was treated like a child during our travels together.  Her anger, though sometimes uncomfortably sharp, was well-placed.  I attended  the National Federation of the Blind convention this year for the first time, and came to understand why this organization was so important to her.  I had a wonderful time, and learned to dodge hundreds of canes, and laugh about it.  I know Adrienne’s death is a big loss to many professional communities, but for me, I will simply miss her presence, her indominable spirit, her stubbornness, her deep capacity for love.”—Randi Stein, dance/movement therapist, M.A., DMT

 Adrienne Asch’s obituary appeared in the New York Times on November 23, 2013.

(Un)Balancing Family and Work

Joanna Dreby, co-editor (with Tamara Mose Brown) of Family and Work in Everyday Ethnographyabout negotiating the challenges of parenthood and fieldworkexplains how her family life sometimes gets in the way of her work.

I was supposed to write this post last week. But then the pediatrician diagnosed my 11-year-old Temo’s persistent cough as possible pertussis, keeping him home for five days followed by his 7-year-old brother Dylan who began with the cough a few days later. Temo’s antibiotic treatment started first, leaving one extremely bored, rambunctious, 2nd grader home the entire work week.  I juggled Dylan around my class lectures, stack of papers, the conclusion to my book manuscript I keep putting off, and this blog post to write. The laundry didn’t get the memo and do itself either.

Although frustrating, this surely sounds familiar to other working mothers.  It is especially not aberrant a week in the life of the academic parent. I trade stories like these frequently with colleagues, who know this shuffle all too well.  A single parent, others may comment, “I don’t know how you do it.” I do not know the answer.  My children, of course, notice, and at times critique my coping techniques.  At morning drop off when Dylan blows a kiss and yells goodbye saying, “I love you, don’t stress today,” I know he understands. We may smile knowingly at these personal struggles, social scientists so often keep these discussions in the backstage, talked about informally at lunches or events only when we dare to pull back from our professional personas.

These are professional problems, yet those of us who formally analyze social problems, and the links between the private and public spheres, rarely turn the scope of analysis on ourselves.  The black hole seems especially apparent in qualitative field research. Ethnography as a social science research method embraces full involvement in research; ethnographers delve into the days of others to fully understand the rhythms of these lives that may, on the outside, seem so foreign.  Strangely, ethnographers so often remain silent on their own struggles to manage family and work. Until now there have been too few outlets that look squarely—and with an academic gaze—at the problems and successes of the academic parenting.

Family and Work_smMy new book, Family and Work in Everyday Ethnography, which I co-edited with Tamara Brown, brings together essays considering the intersections between parenting and the practice of ethnography.  Leah Schmalzbauer writes of becoming pregnant, and raising two children, amid interviews with immigrant populations, and how becoming a mother altered her own analytical frame, as well as relationships with participants. Chris Bobel faces the tragedy that wracked her personal life and its impact on her professional identity.  Randol Contreras comes to terms with the ways his research on drug robbers in the South Bronx competes with his son’s need for fatherly affection. These and the other essays in this book show how researchers who are also parents meet work and family commitments.  Some reflect on their efforts to keep work separate from their families, while others accept their connections and intersections.  Throughout, the authors grapple with these difficult struggles both with integrity and honesty.  I cannot imagine a challenge more worth the struggle.

Decent Care

In this blog entry, Karla Erickson, author of How We Die Nowwrites about the big step toward decent care taken last month when home health care aides were granted federal protection.

In the late 1990s, a McJob—a low paid job with few future prospects like a fast-food job– was the most common way to earn a living in the United States. Quietly and quickly, the fastest growing job category has shifted to a form of work that is far less visible and, until now, far more precarious: home health aide.

For many of us, the mention of home health aide may bring to mind a bouncy 18-year-old girl in a candy striper uniform, but we would be wrong. Home health aides are overwhelmingly female, overwhelmingly women of color, and are women, not girls, often with families of their own. Up until now they have worked in the shadow economy: a barely regulated space lacking all of the protections of even a McJob. No insurance, no minimum wage, and no overtime protection.

Up until September 17, 2013, this work has been treated as not work, or at least not work that rises to the level of receiving federal protections for workers. This shadowy, off-the- record approach to home health work has had several costs. First, it linked home health aides’ labor to a long history of underpaid, indentured and enslaved labor in the home. Second, it reduced the complex work of caring for dependent adults to something that women—and particularly women of color–are naturally good at doing. Why pay well for work that is intrinsically rewarding? And finally, it was indecent. Failing to offer even the most minimal support and defenses to the people who work to care for the most frail among us is a sorry statement on our society. It devalues care, the home, and frail people in one fell swoop.

How We DIe Now_smSo thanks to a suit brought by Evelyn Coke, home health workers will now have federal rights. Coke worked for most of her life in other people’s houses to make sure their bodies were clean, clothed, safe, and fed, but she never had the protection of the Fair Labor Standards Act. This moves her and her compatriots one step away from servants, and elevates them to the status of a McJob.

This major victory is one more step toward decency. Labor rights activists often work toward dignity, and I’m not sure we are there yet, but decency, yes. Home health aides link back to a tradition of capitalizing on the caring labor of racial minority women in homes by paying poorly or not paying at all for their service and sometimes-loving care. Racial minority women and particularly recent immigrant women have often been employed in informal labor arrangements that included extraordinarily long days, working over holidays, wages well below the minimum wage, and absolutely no access to recourse if they were treated unfairly. This act is one step away from that history.

The work that home health aides do is intimate, but working in the shadow economy has routinely put them in danger of exploitation, injury, and abuse. We talk about decent service, decent care, but until the passage of this law, we have not had the decency as a society to protect or even recognize the emotional, spiritual, psychological, and physical labor of the people who work in our homes and aide us in being people. Home health aides are the quiet assistants who ready us for living if we are recovering from an injury or need help with the activities of daily living and the management of disease. They ride buses, and drive their own cars to the homes of mainly elderly, but any person who needs some help to get through their day. They spend hours bent over, raising and turning bodies, cleaning sheets, changing clothes, ministering to others. Today they did not get their due. But they did move a giant step closer to being treated decently, which after all, is what we expect and ask from them everyday.

Last month’s decision will be remembered for years to come. It is a huge victory. Here’s hoping we use this moment of decency to honor, and begin to offer support for, the people who care for us during our most vulnerable stages of life.

Celebrating Mural Arts Month

October is Mural Arts Month! And Temple University Press, publisher of Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They Tell, and its sequel More Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They Tellas well as the forthcoming Philadelphia Mural Arts @ 30, join the City of Philadelphia in celebration of Mural Arts Month. 

Phila Murals comp Throughout the month, the Mural Arts Program will explore the stories and art that transform communities and individual lives with free tours, exhibitions, dedications, receptions, an open house, and more. For a complete list of events, visit muralarts.org.

SUPPORT PUBLIC ART, YOUTH EMPOWERMENT & COMMUNITY

Mural Arts depends on the support of friends like you! Click here to help us make a positive impact on the city and its citizens.

HIGHLIGHTED EVENTS FOR SOCIAL MEDIA

Web: muralarts.org

Twitter: @MuralArts

Facebook: facebook.com/MuralArtsPhiladelphia

Exhibition Reception: stikman: “…in the house…”
Friday, October 18, 2013

6 – 8 p.m.

Lincoln Financial Mural Arts Center at the Thomas Eakins House, 1727-29 Mt. Vernon Street

For 20 years, guerilla street artist stikman has been best known for his ‘stickmen’ figures, which he crafts from various source materials and embeds in streets and affixes to walls and other locations across the country. Curated by Vandalog’s RJ Rushmore.

Funded by City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program

Mural Dedication: Aqui Se Respira Lucha
Friday, October 18, 2013
12:30 – 2 p.m.
APM for Everyone
Front & Westmoreland Streets
Celebrate the stunning artwork created by muralist Betsy Casañas and behavioral health provider agencies, participants, and community members.
Funded by: City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health & Intellectual disAbility Services, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation, William Penn Foundation, Independence Foundation, The Philadelphia Foundation, The Patricia Kind Family Foundation

Mural Dedication: Autumn Revisited

Saturday, October 19, 2013
1 – 2:30 p.m.

Fleisher Art Memorial

719 Catharine Street

At this family-friendly event, we dedicate David Guinn’s Autumn Revisited mural, which graces the western façade of Fleisher Art Memorial, next to beloved Palumbo Park.

Funded by: City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, Fleisher Art Memorial, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

MoreMuralsMural Dedication: The North Philadelphia Beacon Project

Friday, October 25, 2013

12:30 – 2 p.m.

S.T.O.P., Inc.

Broad & Huntingdon Streets

Celebrate the stunning artwork by muralist James Burns and behavioral health provider agencies, participants, and community members.

Funded by: City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health & Intellectual disAbility Services, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation, William Penn Foundation, Independence Foundation, The Philadelphia Foundation, The Patricia Kind Family Foundation

Murals & Meals Tour with Pizza Brain
Saturday, October 26, 2013

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

2313 Frankford Avenue

Leaving from and returning to Pizza Brain

Tickets: $35/person

Pizza, ice cream, and public art combine to create a delicious experience. Hosted by special guest Joey Sweeney of Philebrity, this tour begins and ends at Pizza Brain – the world’s first pizza museum – and includes a slice of artisan pizza, a fountain drink, and the first taste of our signature 30th Anniversary ice cream flavor, developed by adjoining Little Baby’s Ice Cream. This tour is a feast for the senses. For more information: 215-925-3633 ext 13 or tours@muralarts.org.

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