Defining the next revolution for women, work and family

Madeleine Kunin

During these last days of the summer, we here at Disruptive Women are reflecting on posts near when we first launched—it’s fascinating to see how far we’ve come and where we still have to goto pushto Disrupt.  After all, a woman’s work is never done. We originally published this post on June 19, 2012.

The New Feminist Agenda, defining the next revolution for women, work and familyby Madeleine Kunin. Trying to “do it all” takes a toll on women’s health. And men’s health too.  Surprisingly, more men than women report feeling work life stress.

It’s time to take a serious look at how we expect families to combine work and family without jeopardizing their health  in today’s predominantly two-wage earner family.  In my book, “The New Feminist Agenda, defining the next revolution for women, work and family,” published on Mother’s Day (reviewed the same day in  The New York Times Book Review on the front cover)  I lay out an agenda that would enable working families to be both  healthier providers and caregivers.

I was on a radio talk show Monday morning, emanating from Miami, Florida, and one of the callers explained that she has a job, recently had her second child, her husband is helpful, but all she feels in guilt. She would like to spend more time with her children, but she can’t because she is working.  “Does anyone else feel this way?” she asked.

I assured her that as a mother of four children who had a political career, I knew exactly what she was talking about.

When I wrote my first book, Living a Political life, my editor at Knopf told me, “You’ve got to cut out some of the guilt in the manuscript. “ I cut some of it out of the book, but I haven’t cut it completely out of my life.


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Ground-breaking podcast series launched

This post first appeared on the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families site on August 14, 2016.

We’ve just launched a series of expert podcasts to help parents understand and manage child and family mental health problems.

The series, Child in Mind, is presented by BBC Radio 4 presenter Claudia Hammond. In each 20-minute episode, she discusses an important issue in child and family mental health with an expert and a young person or parent.

The first episode, which focuses on childhood anxiety, is now available on our iTunes podcast channel (click subscribe to listen) and our Soundcloud account. It features Professor of Developmental Clinical Psychology Cathy Creswell from the University of Reading, and Beckie, whose 10 year old son Luke’s anxiety caused severe difficulties in her family’s life.


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Improving Maternal Health in the U.S. and Around the World

Sophia Headshot_Sep15Since 1990, the United States is the only World Health Organization (WHO) region that has actually had an increase in maternal deaths. Although many think that maternal health problems are isolated to the developing world, challenges persist in our country. This is despite spending the most in the world on hospitalization for pregnancy and childbirth. In contrast, the countries that have been most successful in reducing maternal deaths have often achieved these results by using a midwifery model of care—an example that the U.S. may benefit from. Midwifery programs provide advanced education and training to support this model, and studies highlight the positive outcomes that result. Here, we’ll examine why maternal health may be getting worse in the U.S. and solutions that may offer better results. (more…)

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Lessons Learned: Graduation Day Reflections

Robin Strongin

In honor of this past weekend, which for me included celebrating my daughter’s college graduation and Mother’s Day, I wanted to take this opportunity to share what I have learned along the way. Here is what Elise and I talk about:

  • Never let anyone else define you. No professor, no employer, no elected official, nobody. Sure it’s important to be open-minded and respectful. But remember, a grading system, an employer’s evaluation, a demographic, and a bank’s metrics tell only part of your story. While you need to operate, to some extent within existing systems, never ever stop questioning, refining, redefining definitions, metrics and systems that don’t capture your full contributions and awesomeness.
  • Learn to read a financial statement. Regardless of your major, do not leave college without a class or two that can help you negotiate a salary, fight for a budget, and demand your fair share of equity.  If you can’t read the financials, you cannot advocate for yourself and your team.
  • Don’t stress if you decide the degree you start with no longer seems to be your life long career choice.  Life is funny that way. We grow, we change, experiences and reality come crashing in to utterly upend our best laid plans.  Sometimes they are welcomed, and other times we wish they never happened. But you are young and just getting started. If nothing else, a girl needs to learn to stay flexible,  to adapt, and to see each challenge as an opportunity. Easier said than done but at the end of the day, survival takes chutzpah, a sense of adventure, and a sense of humor.  Don’t just take the road less traveled, design and map that road (allowing for all kinds of twists and turns) and then go roaring down it. (Please remember to buckle up–the ride will be bumpy.)
  • Life is not fair.  No matter where you are in life, there will be assholes.  Always do your best to avoid them, move away from them, and yes, not let them define you.  Remember, they are assholes.
  • Understand the value of compound interest.  Even an intern in a non profit can begin her financial planning.  Setting up a savings account, contributing regularly, learning about retirement planning.  I know, I know, getting a job is hard, earning a decent salary is harder, and the very idea that one day you will be old enough to retire is hardest of all to fathom. I am here to tell you: it pays to start now.
  • Relish this moment.  GRAD 2016

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Concussions: A Girls’ Health Problem

Julie-PotyrajFor many people, the connection between sports and concussions will come as no surprise. Within the past few months, concussions have had a continued presence in the media, mostly as they pertain to professional football. Intentionally or not, the NFL has been leading the charge on concussion awareness for the past several years. In 2014, documents were brought to federal court saying that a third of all retired NFL players were expected to develop a “long-term cognitive problem” at some point in their lives as a result of head injuries from football. Recently, a court finally affirmed the deal for the NFL to compensate all players who had suffered neurological damage as a result of these injuries. While this represents an important victory for former athletes, the battle to improve concussion prevention has only just begun.

Because of the popularity of professional football in the United States, the NFL often dominates the public discourse on concussions. But by framing the conversation about concussions around football, we are alienating one of the most vulnerable populations: girls. (more…)

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What it means to meet Mikey

Ellie_Dehoney_HeadshotYou know those really good people, the ones who are determined to make the world a better place?  I’m not one of those.  I live in the Nation’s Capital – a beehive for the cause-oriented – so I know a really good person when I see one.  I have colleagues who tithed their babysitting money.  Who spent their college downtime standing up global nonprofits. Who mentor and tutor and build habitats for humanity.

I spent my babysitting money on ill-considered teenage clothing.  I spent my college downtime playing quarters.  And until recently, my adulthood has been, for all intents and purposes, volunteerism-free.  I had my reasons for studiously ignoring any need that wasn’t my own: too busy, too tired, too poor.  The usual.

Then I met Mikey. (more…)

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Dying to Get an Education

Meryl Bloomrosen

Public policy and public health efforts are underway to help assure that people can be healthy where they live, work, and play.  As part of providing education, schools are supposed to protect the health and safety of students.   Various government and non-government organizations (NGOs) offer resources, toolkits and evidence-based resources to help school districts, schools, and school personnel deal with health emergencies, such as life threatening conditions like asthma.  Guidelines indicate that schools should have:  a policy or rule that allows students to carry and use their own asthma medicines; written emergency plan(s) for teachers and staff to follow to take care of a student who has an asthma attack; and standing orders and quick-relief medicines for students’ use.[1] [2]

In the last few days, I read with admiration about middle and high school students setting aside any personal trepidation and potential disciplinary action to help fellow classmates who were having asthma attacks. (more…)

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Best of 2015: The Exposing the Silence Project

Photo credit: Lindsay Askins,

Photo credit: Lindsay Askins,

Today’s best of 2015 posts comes from our Maternal Health Series spearheaded by our fabulous summer intern Allison Kaye. The full series can be seen here.

“Well, at least you have a healthy baby!” is one of the most common phrases a mother who went through a traumatic birth experiences hears. While the friend or family member may mean well and simply be trying to show optimism, he or she is often isolating the deep pain the mother may be going through. As part of my research on maternal health, I came across the photography and advocacy project Exposing the Silence: Documenting Birth Trauma and the Strength of Women across America. The project brings to light a little noticed group of women– women who experienced past sexual abuse that can be triggered during a traumatic birth; others forced into unwanted procedures; or women who felt ignored or demeaned by their care providers during birth. (more…)

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The Pathologizing of Children

ec_crop (1)He’s suspended from school for defying his teacher and clashing with classmates. She’s a sullen, sometimes belligerent foster child.  He’s a toddler who cries frequently and doesn’t sleep through the night.  Their common denominator? All these children have been prescribed psychiatric medications.

The likely overprescribing of psychotropic drugs for children is a serious issue. In the face of disturbing data and a lack of scientific evidence about safety and efficacy, some parents and professionals are speaking out.

According to a report in The New York Times, about one in 54 children aged six through 17 covered by private insurance were taking at least two psychotropic medications in 2012 – a 44 percent increase in four years.  Rates among children covered by Medicaid have also increased. Together about a million kids are currently on various combinations of psychotropics, despite a lack of empirical evidence about their safety, efficacy, and side effects. (more…)

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  • December 7th, 2015 Find a Mom. Be Her Village
    By Glenna Crooks
  • Meet Disruptive Woman to Watch: Beth Braun

    beth-braun2There is a popular saying that goes, “If you meet someone who is able to turn pain into poetry, don’t let them go.”  Beth Braun, a Disruptive Woman to Watch for 2016, has embodied those word by turning personal pain into beautiful performance art and, in the process of doing so, helping others to begin healing their own emotional and psychological wounds.

    In 2011, Braun, a professional dancer and high school dance instructor, formed the Esperanza Dance Project in Tucson, Arizona.  Dance has been at the core of Braun’s life since she was a young child, and it was dance that helped her cope with one of the most difficult times in her life, when she learned that her daughter had been sexually abused.  She is now using her talents and experiences to help those who have suffered similar traumas.

    The purpose of the Esperanza Dance Project is to succeed in “eradicating stigma, secrecy and shame associated with childhood sexual violence.” (more…)

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    Pregnancy, prostates, and football.

    Steve Buonaugurio HeadshotLook — men and women are different, and not just the obvious biology lesson. How we tick, how we think, how we feel, and how we interact with the world is all based upon something evolution has been working on since there were human beings. For most of human history men in general, and certainly husbands, had nothing to do with birth. When I was making my documentary Pregnant in America, Dr. Michel Odent, a world-leading expert on the subject, told me, “The men should go outside and chop wood and leave the women alone to give birth.”

    While Dr. Odent’s contribution to modern maternity care has been in many ways revolutionary, this particular advice caught me off guard, but it also sparked my curiosity. What was my role in the birth of my child?

    Let’s be honest, in today’s society, our gender roles have gotten a bit complicated and confusing. Society is now asking for different things from men. Gone are the days sitting in the waiting room with our cigars, waiting for a hearty pat on the back. (more…)

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    Pregnant in Prison: Maternity Care for Incarcerated Women

    myheadshotWhen thinking about maternal health access, one group of women are often forgotten, even silenced – incarcerated women.  According to the two part TV series “Babies Behind Bars,” the number of women in US prisons has climbed 400% over the past 30 years. It is estimated that the majority of these women are in jail for non-violent crimes. Each year, 6-10% of all incarcerated women are pregnant.

    Adequate maternal care for inmates has multiple components. Do they have access to prenatal care? Are they allowed more food? If they sleep on a top bunk can they be moved to a bottom bunk? Is access to mental health services provided to help with post-partum issues that may arise as the result of separation from their infant? Can the women breastfeed? Is shackling used?

    Restraining women during labor and delivery and post-labor poses potential harms to the health of the mother as well as the baby.  The National Commission on Correctional Health Care, Federal Bureau of Prisons, and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, along with numerous other notable organizations advise against shackling pregnant women. However, it is up to state and local jurisdictions to decide. While some states and local leaders have made great strides to prohibit shackling of pregnant women, many still have not enacted laws to protect pregnant inmates against this inhumane treatment. (more…)

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    Reproductive Justice, Stratified Reproduction & the Importance of Ethnography in Improving Reproductive Health Outcomes

    Reproductive Justice image oneThese images illustrate the complex phenomenon of reproductive justice, an intersectional approach of working against the ways that pregnancy, birth, and mothering stratify across race, nationality, and class. That is, as I often tell my anthropology students, studying reproductive health, policy, and experiences requires paying attention to “everything else” in social, economic, and political life. In my medical anthropology research I often argue this “everything else” results in the separation between public health as developed in policy and best practices, and public health in practice as experienced by women in marginalized communities. Here, I show that ethnography (the central research method of cultural anthropology) is one tool for closing that gap and improving reproductive health delivery. Using this approach to reproduction I use examples from Black Lives Matter, my own research on maternal mortality in Oaxaca, Mexico, and the current push to defund Planned Parenthood to make that case for greater attention to cultural context and power hierarchies by policy-makers and health-care providers.

    For many people Black Lives Matter and reproductive justice may seem like different issues—perhaps allied, but not necessarily connected. (more…)

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    Maternal Health and Reproductive Justice Series Overview

    myheadshotEach day there are approximately 353,000 babies born globally, according to UNICEF. America is actually lagging behind most industrialized countries in its maternal health quality indicators. Why is it that despite America’s high medical standards, the maternal death rate appears to be rising? While 99% of maternal death occurs in the developing world, September 2010 data ranks the US 50th in the world for maternal death.

    In measuring maternal health there are multiple factors to consider: maternal death rates, infant death rates, perceived experiences of care, cost of care, and more. While statistics and numbers are important, I wanted to focus on the voices and lived experiences of women as they navigate the complex system of maternal health in the US. Some women have had incredibly positive experiences with high quality care in hospitals, birth-centers, or at home. For others, trouble stems from the lack of options, control, and autonomy as their reproductive power is stripped from them and placed in the hands of someone else. This isn’t simply an issue of class, race, geography, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, or any one group alignment. The maternal health care problem our country faces is intersectional and prevalent. (more…)

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