Paycheck Fairness is Long Overdue

I learned early on, as the daughter of immigrants, that although the Constitution says that “all men are created equal,” all men and women are not treated equally. My parents saw getting a good education from a reputable institution as one way to “even out the playing field, ” so I thought my degrees from UC Berkeley and Columbia University would protect me from such injustices.

I was terribly wrong. I would ultimately end up being paid substantially less for doing the same job as a male counterpart for two years—and I found out because the person who was earning more than me was my partner.

I met my husband in 2004, when we were both enrolled in the same graduate programs at Columbia University. Two years after we graduated with the same dual Masters degrees in Education and Counseling Psychology, we were hired by the same agency for the same position.

I was extensively more qualified than my husband to serve as a school-based clinician: I had more than five years work experience in the field, outstanding references and a California Pupil Personnel Services Credential. But I am a Chinese American woman, and my husband is a white man—and I was offered only $35,700 a year, whereas he was offered $41,000.

That whopping 13 percent difference grew over two years to mean over $10,000 lost—effectively robbing us both of an extra $440 a month to pay for rent, access to healthy food and child care and cutting short my own future earning potential and social security benefits.

Our attempts at investigating and mitigating the situation were unsuccessful. Our emails, phone calls and letters to the employment agency went unanswered. We couldn’t afford a lawyer. We were forced to accept the situation. And I felt disrespected and devalued.

Once I knew about the wage gap manifesting in my own marriage, every single day became an emotional and mental struggle. I consciously resisted internalizing what had happened to me as my fault, fought back against thinking that somehow it was me who wasn’t enough. Sometimes, it was difficult to even be around my husband knowing that I worked every bit as hard, arguably harder than him, but was still paid less.

This wasn’t just an illegal, unjust and unethical situation. It was a traumatic one—and it required hundreds of hours of counseling and social activism to heal.

Over 50 years ago, the Equal Pay Act made it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform substantially equal work. Ten years ago, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act restored the rights of pay discrimination victims, and made it clear that in the eyes of the legal system, the time limit for filing a discrimination claim resets with each discriminatory paycheck.

But even that is not enough. Today, women who work full time, year-round, are paid only 80 cents on average for every dollar men earn. That’s a $10,169 gap each year that persists and exists in every state—regardless of geography, occupation, education or work patterns. And it is even worse for moms and women of color.

Despite all this, I’m confident that we’re on the precipice of change. Among candidates in competitive Senate, House and gubernatorial races in 2018, equal pay was the issue most commonly included in candidates’ platforms. Presidential candidates are prioritizing wage and family issues. The U.S. is more primed than ever to pass legislation to curb this unjust practice.

The U.S. finally moved closer to pay equality on Wednesday, when Congress convened a hearing on the Paycheck Fairness Act to hear from experts and those who have suffered because of the wage gap. This critical legislation would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act, help to break harmful patterns of pay discrimination and establish stronger workplace protections for women. It would assist businesses who need support with their equal pay practices and ensure the Department of Labor uses tools to investigate and identify any disparities.

My story should not be so common. Wage discrimination carries a profound impact on the lives of women—both in their ability to afford necessities for their families, and in the psychological and emotional toll this discrimination leaves behind. My family came to America believing that by working hard(er), we would have the same opportunities as everyone else—but we’re not there yet.

I’m hopeful Congress will finally do right by women and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. True equality is long overdue.

Laura Mui is a marriage and family therapist in Oakland, California.

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Rewriting the Score: Advancing Women’s Representation in Classical Music

Join Ms., Feminist Majority Foundation and the American Youth Symphony in Los Angeles for a FREE concert featuring music from three women composers to ring in AYS’ Year of the Woman! Click here to reserve a seat.

Among the many aspects of contemporary life and culture in which women’s representation is edging toward equity, the field of classical music is making progress. There is ample opportunity for this progress—given that classical music has been built on centuries of works composed, performed and curated by men.

Women’s representation has been notably increasing among orchestra musicians, especially as more organizations institute blind auditions as a standard practice, placing a curtain between auditioning musicians and judges. According to the League of American Orchestras, the percentage of women instrumentalists has gone from 38.2 percent in 1978 to nearly 50 percent in 2018. (Recent headlines, however, suggest that the gender pay gap in the field remains significant.)

Statistics from Bachtrack also note that significantly more female composers were featured in 2018 concerts than in previous years, but equitable participation is not as apparent in regard to conductors and composers. The same statistics show that only five of the top 100 conductors and only two of the top 100 composers were women. According to a report by The Guardian, only 2 percent of works programmed by top orchestras worldwide this season were written by women, and 95 percent of concerts only included music written by men. And while there has been a recent wave of women hired to conduct, especially in the U.S., anecdotally, data from the League of American Orchestras shows that the percentage of women holding music director positions is virtually the same in 2018 as it was in 2006—roughly nine percent.

In an effort to push forward the dialogue around representation of women in classical music, the American Youth Symphony (AYS) has declared the current 2018/19 season “The Year of the Woman.” Founded in 1964, AYS has welcomed women since the beginning—even during a time when many orchestras and training programs were not so inclusive. (Fittingly, the AYS mission is to “inspire the future of classical music.”)

This season features two concerts fully devoted to showcasing the talent of women in classical music, and all but one of the season’s nine performances prominently feature a woman in a leadership position: composers, guest artists and fellows in charge of programming. The exception is our annual Hollywood Project concert, in which the orchestra plays the live score to a full-length film; this year, we’re doing Raiders of the Lost Ark.

An upcoming AYS concert on February 23rd marks the capstone of The Year of the Woman—and the first live event in a new series called AYS Amplifies, an ongoing effort to amplify the voices of people doing important work in the classical music community. Sponsored by Ms. and the Feminist Majority Foundation, the concert will feature only music that has been written by women: Lera Auerbach, Jennifer Higdon and Susan Botti, who will also perform live as a guest artist with the orchestra. (Both the performance and pre-concert conversation are free and open to the public, though reservations are recommended.) The concert will be preceded by a conversation facilitated by AYS Music Director Carlos Izcaray about the representation of women in classical music, with a focus on composers, featuring Botti and Ms. Executive Editor Katherine Spillar.

A study by Quartz found that only 31 percent of musicians in top orchestras are women, and that only 21 percent of principal and titled positions were held by women. But of the musicians in the 2018/19 orchestra at AYS, which conducts blind auditions in order to select musicians based on merit and artistic ability only, 45 percent are women; and 52 percent of principal and titled positions are held by women. In addition to performance training, AYS also currently offers three professional development fellowship positions, all of which are held by women this season—the Concertmaster, Orchestra Management Fellow and Citizen Musician Fellow. It may also be worth noting that all four full-time staff positions at AYS are held by women—including me, the AYS Executive Director.

But AYS is also not the only organization moving toward gender equity; there are others doing incredible work, and we use our platform to share their efforts when possible. We have started featuring people and programs supporting women at all stages of their careers on the new AYS Amplifies blog, and we welcome recommendations for others to highlight. (You can reach us via email at

I couldn’t be more thrilled to be part of AYS—and to have joined during The Year of the Woman! I was introduced as the new Executive Director at the first concert of the season, and met Maestro Izcaray in person for the first time at the post-concert reception. “I hope every year after this,” I said lightheartedly after a few minutes of conversation, “isn’t The Year of the Man!” Although he could have laughed it off as a joke, he responded in earnest and shared his ideas for more equitable gender representation moving forward.

It is a beautiful and humbling responsibility to be able to influence future generations of musicians and audience members through our programs. Given that AYS alumni are playing in orchestras across the U.S. and around the world, we have the opportunity to influence the field at-large. Our season themes will change year to year, but we are committed to “inspiring the future of classical music” to be one that is more equitable.

Tara Aesquivel is the Executive Director of the American Youth Symphony. She strives to share the power of the arts with others through her work—which has included strategic planning, fundraising, production and community engagement for Pittsburgh Opera, LA Opera, A Noise Within, Antioch University Los Angeles, The Lukens Company and Invertigo Dance Theatre. Tara has a B.A. in Music from the University of Missouri at Kansas City, a Master of Arts Management from Carnegie Mellon University and studied Cultural Economics at the University of Bologna. She volunteers with Emerging Arts Leaders Los Angeles and the Cal State Dominguez Hills Innovation Incubator and enjoys traveling, hiking and being a mom.

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LISTEN: Sisterhood, Accountability and Ravenously Hungry Girls

Emmy and duPont-Columbia award-winning journalist Anissa Gray’s debut novel The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is a poignant exploration of sisterhood and motherhood situated at the intersections of race and gender.

When Althea and her husband, Proctor, face charges related to their local restaurant-cum-community-charity that cause their family to fall from grace, her sisters Lillian and Viola find themselves rarely reunited in an effort to care for her daughters, Baby Vi and Kim. As the couple awaits their fates, the Butler family members standing strong in Lillian’s home are forced to reckon with some of their darkest memories—and figure out how to forge an unthinkable path together toward healing.

Gray’s novel, narrated through the alternating voices of Althea, Lillian and Viola, hits shelves in bookstores across the country today. The audiobook, narrated by January LaVoy, Adenrele Ojo, Bahni Turpin and Dominic Hoffman, is now ready for your earbuds as well.

Gray covers much ground in telling the engrossing story of the Butler family—including eating disorders, the disparate consequences of a turbulent economy and the fresh wounds of centuries of racial injustice. In the exclusive clip for Ms. readers below, the tied-tightly and therefore ever-put-together Lillian attempts to quiet her own inner turmoil in order to find the strength to comfort Althea’s daughters, and imagines the worst that could be facing her big sister.

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray. Narrated by January LaVoy, Adenrele Ojo, Bahni Turpin and Dominic Hoffman. Published by Penguin Random House Audio.

Carmen Rios is the Digital Editor at Ms. and co-host of the weekly news show TRIGGER HAPPY on Binge Networks. Her writing has been published in BuzzFeed, Bitch, Mic, MEL, Everyday Feminism and Autostraddle, among others, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. Like everyone else in LA, she once had a podcast; unlike everyone else, she stays pretty zen in traffic. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

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The U.S. Legal System is Failing FGM Survivors

Half a million. That is how many women and girls across the U.S. are currently at risk of or have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a number that surprises many—and so should the fact that just 28 states have enacted laws to provide protection against this form of violence and control over female bodies and sexuality.

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With #ZeroToleranceDay to #EndFGM approaching let’s not forget that Female Genital Mutilation happens all over the world. When girls grow up where FGM is against the law, they may be taken somewhere where FGM not illegal, or where the law is not implemented effectively. We must work together to ensure girls are safe from FGM across the world. Taking a girl, for the purpose of having her cut, where FGM not against the law does not stop it being a human rights violation. FGM is a global issue but so is the movement to end it. Stand with us to #EndFGM – link in bio #womensrightsarehumanrights #humanrights #womensrights #wespeakout #antarctica #whyimarch #womenswave

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FGM involves removing and damaging external female genitalia for non-medical reasons, thereby interfering with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies. The World Health Organization cites four classifications of FGM: clitoridectomy, which is the partial or total removal of the clitoris; excision, involving the removal of the entire clitoris and the cutting of the labia minor; pricking, nicking or in other ways damaging the female genitalia; and infibulation, recognized as the most extreme form of FGM, in which all external genitalia are removed and the two sides of the vulva are stitched together, leaving only a small hole. All forms of FGM are internationally recognized as gender based violence, with no medical benefit, and FGM is also recognized as a human rights violation.

The procedure is typically carried out on girls between infancy and 15 years of age. Survivors of FGM are impacted everyday for the rest of their lives. After being cut,  menstruation, and sexual intercourse can be excruciatingly painful, and women and girls who have undergone FGM can face serious difficulties during childbirth, along with other persistent risks to their physical and psychological well being. Some girls even die from infection or bleeding. As of 2016, there are over 200 million women and girls worldwide who are living with  FGM.

In September 2015, 193 countries, including the U.S., adopted a target in the United Nations Sustainable Development goals to eliminate FGM by 2030. FGM was made illegal in the U.S. in 1996, more than two decades ago, but it was not until last year that the first federal charges were brought under the law.

In 2017, a Detroit-area emergency room physician, Jumana Nagarwala, was charged with using a clinic belonging to another doctor, Fakhruddin Attar, to perform FGM on what federal law enforcement estimates was up to 100 young girls over a twelve year period. In November 2018 all eyes were on Judge Bernard Friedman’s courtroom in the Eastern District of Michigan as he heard the case brought against Nagarwala by nine girls, ranging in age from seven to 13, from Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota.

Equality Now joined FGM survivor-led organizations Sahiyo, WeSpeakOut and Safe Hands for Girls in submitting an Amicus Brief in the case, in which we argued that the federal government has the authority to prohibit FGM based on the cross-border nature of what is an organized community activity, and that Congress also has the power to enact laws in accordance with treaties the U.S. has signed—including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by the U.S. in 1992, which requires signatories to report on what is being done to address FGM in accordance with global recognition of the practice as a violation of the human rights of women and girls.

We knew that this wasn’t just about nine young girls whose lives had been irrevocably changed in a clinic in a Detroit suburb. At the time of the trial, Illinois and Minnesota had laws against FGM. Michigan didn’t. Among the 28 states with laws prohibiting FGM, only eleven have provisions in their laws prohibiting transporting a child out of state to undergo FGM. What happened to these girls in Michigan is indicative of what we know is at risk of happening to hundreds of thousands of girls across the U.S., or what has already happened to those women and girls living with FGM. 

FGM doesn’t just transcend geographic boundaries; it happens across lines of religion, culture, education and socioeconomic status. It happens among groups like the Dawoodi Bohra, at the center of the Michigan case, but also in white Christian communities. “FGM happened to me in white, Midwest America,” Dr. A Renee Bergstrom, whose clitoris was removed at the age of three as a “cure” for masturbation, wrote in a December 2016 essay for The Guardian. She goes on to describe “Christian leaders and doctors recommending circumcision,” “physicians carrying out the practice” and “American culture first accepting this form of sexual abuse and then denying it ever occurred.”

Judge Friedman ultimately ruled that Congress had overstepped its authority in the 1996 legislation outlawing FGM, and ruled the federal ban on FGM “unconstitutional.” But his argument did not sanction FGM, nor does it carry any authority outside of Michigan’s Eastern District. He failed to see that FGM is a “commercial practice,” ignoring the reality that, in most communities, medical practitioners and traditional cutters are compensated for their services—and that performing FGM is lucrative work. The Department of Justice, which recognizes FGM as a form of child abuse, appealed the decision, and now it’s up to the Sixth Circuit Court to reinforce that FGM clearly falls under the lawmaking authority of Congress as stated by the Constitution.

How is it that other countries are making positive progress on banning FGM—while the U.S risks potentially moving backwards?

Standalone laws against FGM, at the state and federal levels, send a powerful and important message about our nation’s will to protect girls in the U.S. and around the world from harm and human rights violations. Protecting children from FGM, however, also requires going beyond law enforcement. We need to be engaging schools, teachers, school counselors, health workers, community leaders and social workers—the people girls at risk engage most with and those who can provide services to FGM survivors. 

Advocates marked International Day of Zero Tolerance Day for Female Genital Mutilation earlier this month, on February 6—a day for the global community to come together to raise awareness around FGM. Building on informal working groups that began several years ago, this past Zero Tolerance Day, Equality Now was thrilled to be part of the launch of the U.S End FGM/C Network, and we’re proud to serve on the inaugural Steering Committee. The Network brings together policymakers, healthcare professionals, civil society organizations, foundations, activists and survivors committed to eradicating FGM in the U.S. and around the world.

The key to ending FGM around the world is talking about it, and using the law as a tool for prevention and education. Together—with survivors who are sharing their stories, raising their voices and making a different choice for their daughters—we can ensure the conversation around FGM is had more widely and more openly and engenders more protections for those at risk.

And we can start right here at home—by demanding a law against FGM in every single state.

Shelby Quast is the Americas Director at Equality Now and has worked internationally for over three decades in a broad range of disciplines. She is a recipient of the Fulbright award and has taught at the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America, American University, Jagiellonian University in Poland and the Indian Institute of Management in Lucknow and holds a J.D. from Columbus School of Law at CUA and a B.A. in International Business from the University of Oregon. Follow her on Twitter @ShelbyRQuast.

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Solidarity on Screen: What “Roma” Means to Domestic Workers Worldwide

“What an incredible time for this movie to come out, after #MeToo and Time’s Up,” Emmy Award-winning producer and New York Times bestselling author Nely Galan suggested to a crowd of Academy members and advocates Friday. “And yet, Latinas have always been at the end of the story.”

That evening, however, Latinas were front and center. Galan, joined by actors Yalitza Aparacio and Marina de Tavira and National Domestic Workers Alliance Gender Justice Campaigns Director Monica Ramirez, moderated a conversation after the social impact screening of Alfonso Cuaron’s groundbreaking and 10-time Oscar nominated Roma that focused on the film’s reverberations across the U.S. and Mexico, especially for Latina women.

Nely Galan, Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira and Monica Ramirez spoke to an audience in West Hollywood Friday about Roma and the impact it has had for domestic workers—and on the actors themselves. (Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix)

Roma, inspired by Cuaron’s memories of his own childhood, follows a domestic worker named Cleo through political and personal tumult in Mexico City in the seventies. Cleo oversees the care of four children and a dog; with the help of fellow domestic worker Adela, she also manages the house helmed by their parents and grandmother. Outside of the house, the two young indigenous women also navigate romance and family obligations, but at work, Cleo increasingly finds herself holding together her employing family as divorce threatens to dismantle their day-to-day lives. In the span of a year, Cleo’s employer, Sofia, played by de Tavira, becomes a single mother in an oversized home, complete with a car she can’t fit through the front gate; in private, Cleo also suffers through pregnancy complications and the growing divisions between her past in a poor village and her life in the big city.

Friday’s even was the first event in advance of the Oscars ceremony this weekend that allowed the women who brought Cuaron’s childhood memories to life on-screen to reflect on their experiences bringing female experiences to the fore. “I’m moved by the fact that I’ve honored these women,” Aparicio, who stars in the film as domestic worker Cleo but came to the set with no formal training, told the crowd. “I had thought that I was doing this in order to pay homage to my mother. but as the film has taken off, I’ve realized that really it’s become a film where I’ve paid homage to so many women.”

In fact, Aparicio paid homage to 67 million people around the world who perform domestic labor—and who, in the wake of Roma, have now finally seen themselves on screen. Despite a nearly 50-year span between the film’s origin story and its birth on the screen, much of what Cleo suffers through still rings resonant today. Domestic workers perform grueling physical and emotional labor, oftentimes in the shadow of painstakingly high expectations and in the face of unfair conditions. NDWA reports that 70 percent of the 2 million domestic workers in the U.S. make less than $13 an hour, and 65 percent don’t have health insurance; the Instituto de Liderazgo Simone de Beauvoir found that one-third of the 95 perfect of the 2.4 million female domestic workers in Mexico today are paid less than the minimum wage, and a majority face discrimination and violence on-the-job.

Galan, Aparicio, de Tavira and Ramirez at the Roma social impact screening Friday. (Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix)

Cuaron did not set out to romanticize or wax nostalgic about his appreciation for his childhood nanny in order to erase her own challenges. Instead, Roma broke new ground for domestic workers by providing viewers with an authentic depiction of Cleo’s life—one that is hard, but important, for all of us to watch.

“The work Cleo and women like her do is so often invisible—things that look simple, or like they don’t matter, but they do,” Ramirez asserted. “For many people, domestic workers are invisible. There has been little attention paid to the ways in which they’re contributing, every single day, to families and to our country. And this movie provides an opportunity for us to see exactly how they’re  contributing and why it’s so important that they be treated with dignity and respect.”

Roma has already had a reverberating impact. Domestic workers in Mexico recently won social security benefits from the nation’s highest court, and NDWA is leveraging the film’s Oscar buzz to generate more support across the country for domestic workers and make a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights a legislative reality. “We have to make sure people understand that all work and all workers are valuable,” Ramirez declared. “I believe that, as we continue to celebrate the contributions of domestic workers, the more we can improve their conditions.”

Galan told Aparicio and de Tavira that she was struck by one heartbreaking scene in Roma in particular, when Sofia  comes home drunk and tells Cleo: “No matter what, we’re always alone.” But that’s not the final word in Roma. Instead, the film highlights the power and poignancy of sisterhood: Cleo and Adela lean on one another for support through their personal times of upheaval; Sofia and Cleo develop what become a literal life-saving friendship that, in real life, led to a life-long cohabitation between the two women they’re based on.

Such was also the spirit of Friday’s screening. “I so root for your success,” Galan told Aparicio and de Tavira, both now nominated for Academy Awards. “When one of us succeeds, we all succeed.” Aparicio is the first indigenous woman to ever be up for Best Actress, and says she is “still digesting” the rush of praise and critical acclaim her performance has won for Cuaron’s film; de Tavira told the audience Friday that she is proud to represent actors from across Mexico on the red carpet.

“When I saw Alfonso Cuarón’s film Roma it moved me to tears,” legendary feminist and labor rights leader Dolores Huerta confessed in an op-ed for Deadline Hollywood. “Roma reminds me of that power and that seeing women, people of color and indigenous people on screen is crucial. Roma is a love letter to the women that raised Alfonso Cuarón and a reminder that the strength of women lies in our solidarity.”

Huerta’s signature send-off—si, su puede!—was echoed in the screening room Friday as well. “Together,” Galan reminded the audience before closing down the discussion, “we are everything.”

Carmen Rios is the Digital Editor at Ms. , co-host of TRIGGER HAPPY on Binge Networks and co-founder of Argot Magazine. Her work has also appeared at BuzzFeed, Bitch, Mic, MEL, Everyday Feminism and Autostraddle. Like everyone else in LA, she once had a podcast; unlike everyone else, she stays pretty zen in traffic. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

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That Thing She Had One Time: Exploring Abortion Stigma On Screen

“You’re going to have to come back in five days. You’re too early to schedule an abortion.”

This is the moment when Jordan collapses into tears.

Jordan is in 10,000 miles away from home in New York—and the tangled mess of anxiety, fear and disarray has built up in her isolated mind and finally overflowed as she gives way, with half-held back tears, to the strange and uncomfortably impersonal hospital staff.  “Look, it’s just because your HCG levels aren’t high enough,” a nurse says into the face of a young, lost girl with eyes wide and eyebrows furrowed in panicked confusion. “You need stop crying.”

Jordan is exasperated. Of the six professionals she met with in New York, she recalls just one to whom she felt something other than coldness towards, and who seemed to feel something other than aversion to her situation. “The second time I came back there was one,” she says, “the sonogram doctor that time, she was really nice. She was young, she was the only one who talked to me and made me feel okay.”

But Jordan Fassina has been here before. It’s Sadie who hasn’t—the main character of her upcoming film That Thing I Had One Time, which will be released this year by Red Sky Studios.

Jordan Fassina’s autobiographical film “That Thing I Had One Time” explores the stigmas facing women who seek abortion care.

“This is going to be a lot of closure for me,” Fassina told Ms. “It’s going to be a really beautiful thing to put my experience out there and know that there’s other women that are going to relate. I feel that there’s going to be a sense of unity for me, if that makes sense—or a sense of being understood.”

Executive producer Bobby McGruther, who excused himself at times from the set due to the film’s unsettlingly personal nature, describes parts of That Thing I Had One Time as “very intense.” But director Orlando Joubert feels that the potential impact of the film lies in that jarringly intimate voice—in its power to highlight a human experience that is so widely shared, yet seems rarely considered.

“I think this film could shed some light to the other side of the political spectrum—open their eyes as to why many are fighting for a choice and a difficult one at that,” he told Ms., “Though the character of Sadie is sure of her choice, you can see the anguish in her eyes from making it.”

The potential to reap empathy is the entire point of Fassina’s film, and it’s the mission that empowers her to tell her own difficult story. “My main goal is to validate women in their experience and have them feel less alone,” she said in an interview with FilmInk. “I know that there were plenty of times where I felt as though no other person could empathize or understand, so I’m making this for the women who feel no one gets it, to let them know that I do. Abortion is ridiculously common and normal, yet we’re so hesitant to talk about it—and for some, quick to condemn it—that it leaves women feeling isolated.”

The 22-year-old Australian actor and screenwriter’s film on abortion comes at a time when women nationwide are also seeking that sisterhood as they face unprecedented assaults on their reproductive rights. Four states—Mississippi, Louisiana, North Dakota and South Dakota—currently have “trigger laws” on the books which would outright ban abortion if the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade were overturned. Dozens of lawmakers in other states are seeking to do the same, and the recent shift in power of the Court’s bench has groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL preparing for a post-Roe landscape. Beyond trigger laws, politicians have done all they could in the last five years to restrict and limit abortion access—and, too often, have succeeded.

“I’m very privileged in the sense that my family is financially stable and is able to provide an abortion if I needed,” Fassina noted to Ms. “But it’s been proven through so much research that limiting access to abortions is incredibly dangerous for women.”

Denying abortion care to women makes them more likely to experience poverty, physical health impairments and even intimate partner violence. And a 2017 research report by the Center for Reproductive Rights found that the states hellbent on restricting abortion also offer fewer supportive policies for mothers in place than their neighbors, putting women’s lives in danger at every turn. 

“Abortion restrictions can delay or make access to care more difficult, contributing to poor emotional and financial well-being as women try to navigate abortion care hurdles,” researchers noted. “Other restrictions block access to abortion all together, interfering with women’s abilities to make their own reproductive decisions and preventing the achievement of life plans and goals.

Women from Fassina’s hometown in Australia will also no doubt empathize with and understand her story. The last Tasmanian abortion clinic closed early last year due to decreased demand, causing women to seek expensive and more isolated care in other states. Despite a new facility opening in November, concerns have continued regarding the clinic’s affordability and access for regional women in particular.

“It honestly breaks my heart,” Fassina told Ms. “It’s one thing knowing that you have to have an abortion—but knowing that you have to go through leaps and bounds just to get it is a whole other ball game.”

Madeleine Rojahn is a freelance journalist based in Tasmania. Her work has appeared in the UK magazine Transform and local publications Togatus and The Mercury.

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The Ms. Q&A: Carlos Izcaray’s Year of the Women is Only the Beginning

On February 23, a new vision for classical music will resound in Los Angeles.

Susan Botti’s EchoTempo, a setting of Native American translations for soprano, percussion and orchestra; Lera Auerbach’s Icarus; and Grammy- and Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto for Orchestra will fill UCLA’s Royce Hall. The trio of works, performed by the equitably gender-split American Youth Symphony’s 2018 cohort as a salute to its 2018/19 theme, “The Year of the Woman,” will set a new tone in the field for advancing gender equality—and provide audiences with the rare opportunity to spend a night surrounded only by the sounds of works composed by women. (Ms. and Feminist Majority Foundation are sponsoring the free event, and will be on-site to participate in a pre-concert conversation about gender gaps in classical music.)

Though the orchestra’s season will eventually come to an end, AYS’ commitment to advancing women’s representation—behind the curtain, backstage and in the conductor’s pit—will not waver come summer. The Year of the Woman, inspired by the mounting global fight for women’s equality in every sector and sphere, is only the beginning of AYS’ enduring commitment to shaping the future of classical music.

Carlos Izcaray is steering that powerful vision for progress. He is no stranger to the AYS mission to foster young talent and set a new tone in the field: Just last year, Izcaray’s Strike Fugaz was premiered by AYS in association with Human Rights Watch to celebrate global fights for justice; throughout his career, he has worked with young musicians in workshops and led tours by youth orchestras.

The AYS Music Director, who is splitting his time between AYS and a parallel role at the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, is also a legendary figure in classical music with a storied career, lending more than a note of gravitas to his efforts to diversify the field. Izcaray leads ensembles across the U.S. and around the world, from the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphonies to the Kwazulu-Natal Philharmonic. He has performed in opera theaters as nearby as Utah and as far as Peru. He served as Principal Cello and Artistic President of the Venezuela Symphony Orchestra and was featured as a concert soloist and chamber musician worldwide. He won top prizes at the 2007 Aspen Music Festival and the 2008 Toscanini International Conducting Competition, took home the Best Opera prize at the Irish Theatre Awards, received rave opera reviews and saw praise pour in after the release of “Through the Lens of Time,” his latest release.

Izcaray talked to Ms. about how AYS plans to continue advancing women’s representation, what comes after the Year of the Woman and just what we can expect to experience this weekend.

I always start with an inception story. Tell me how the 2018/2019 AYS season became known as the “Year of the Woman.”

As I was envisioning the season as a whole, I wanted to make a statement regarding women composers. The initial idea was to do a program where all featured composers were women, something that I hadn’t done before. As soon as I started the process though, it quickly became evident that doing just one program wouldn’t be enough. There are just too many great works by an incredible diverse pool of women composers to chose from, and sticking to a single event didn’t have the impact I desired. So the main goal quickly evolved into something much more powerful and meaningful, where AYS would perform a whole season where the majority of living composers were women. Add to that the involvement of several female guest artists and, voila!, the Year of the Woman season was born. This felt like a real statement that we could all stand by, and an example to follow in the future.

You’ve also made your own firm commitment to gender equality in time with this powerful public devotion to the issues women face in getting to the stage. Can you also tell me a little bit about your pledge to produce gender-equitable shows?

One of the challenges with classical music is that our past doesn’t collaborate with the gender gap. In other words, women of previous eras sadly didn’t get the opportunities to shine in the field, or even to start in the musical path, hence we have very little repertoire to choose from. But our era is quite different.

A brief glance at databases like shows that the resources are there for us to level the field. So we, as a field, can really make it proportionally fair if we desire, and it’s something we at AYS will continue to do so from here on. Our goal is that 50 percent of all living composers through each of our programming cycles, which last 2-3 years, will be women. From a performing angle, it is also key to give equal opportunity to guest artists, and make sure that there are no gender gaps.

I just want to mention some statistics here about gender in classical music: A 2018 study by Quartz at Work found that, of 2,438 full-time musicians from the world’s 20 greatest orchestras, 69 percent were men. A Post analysis the same year found that women made up nearly 40 percent of the country’s orchestras members—but then held only 21 percent of the principal, or titled, slots. Last year, women occupied just 12 of 73 principal positions in the “big five” orchestras in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia and New York. Of the 1,445 classical concerts performed across the world from 2018 to 2019, only 76 included at least one piece by a woman.

Beyond feminist programming and individual commitments, how do we close these gaps? What will it take for women to achieve parity in classical music, and how can leaders in the field follow your lead and play their own part in making it happen?

I believe the best way to deal with the gender gap is to tackle it head on at every single front. First comes the exposure and instruction for our youth, where every child, no matter that gender they may be, feels that there is equal access and fairness during the first steps of the musical path. Second, there must be equal opportunity for those musicians who strive for advancement in an extremely competitive field. Blind orchestral auditions, where the jury panel is positioned behind a screen and can’t view who is playing, are a great example. Since the practice started a few decades ago, the gender gap has been drastically reduced, and I’m very glad that we at AYS have adopted this practice since the beginning of my tenure. The last part of the equation is the leadership. Whether we’re talking about composers, featured artists, administrators, members of boards of directors, or conductors, it is important to provide an even field and opportunities so that women can also display their talents at the helm of the industry.

What impact do you hope the “Year of the Woman” has, locally and on a larger scale—and how will it shape what’s yet to come from AYS?

With regards to AYS, I hope that our young musicians will see this as a model to follow as they advance in their careers. I foresee that a good number of them will be involved in making artistic or executive decisions in the future, so hopefully they can consider this methodology when it comes to programming and hiring. I also want our audience to feel enriched by being exposed to this diverse roster of composers and performers. On a larger scale, I would encourage other artistic leaders and administrators to apply similar concepts with their respective organizations. This initiative is truly universal in spirit, so it can and should be applied worldwide.

I’m already so looking forward to the “Year of the Woman” celebration concert later this month, produced in partnership with Ms. and the Feminist Majority Foundation. What can those of us in attendance expect that night? 

You can expect to be moved by three amazing composers. Lera Auerbach’s Icarus is driven and fiery, and it provides an energized spark for the concert to take flight. Susan Botti’s Echo Tempo, based on Native American poetry, provides a music tapestry that is truly enchanting. We are also extremely fortunate to have Susan as our voice soloist, and Ted Adkatz will join her with the incredibly complex percussion part. Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto for Orchestra, our closing work, is a journey of epic proportions that features and challenges all the sections of the orchestra. Each composer provides a completely different sound world, with a wide spectrum of emotions to discover.

You can follow Carlos on Instagram @carlos_izcaray and learn more about him at

Carmen Rios is the Digital Editor at Ms. , co-host of TRIGGER HAPPY on Binge Networks and co-founder of Argot Magazine. Her work has also appeared at BuzzFeed, Bitch, Mic, MEL, Everyday Feminism and Autostraddle. Like everyone else in LA, she once had a podcast; unlike everyone else, she stays pretty zen in traffic. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

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The Imaginary Beings of the Feminist-Fueled Resistance

I’ve been working for a few years on an ongoing collage series entitled “The Catalogue of Imaginary Beings,” in which I build larger-than life portraits out of collage material. In the wake of the president’s State of the Union address, I have opted to turn away from my anger and frustration with the White House—and focus my attention instead on the inspirational, monumental and formidable women fighting for equality and leading the resistance.

We’ve seen and heard some powerful and brave women this year. I’m especially inspired by the 116th Congress, which is the most diverse Congress in American history.

That’s why I’m celebrating them with my newest portraits.

THE WOMEN OF THE WOMEN’S MARCH: I’ve made quite a few marchers and protesters in the past couple of years, and I continue to build these women out of other marchers and protesters. These marchers represent all of us. There are too many of us to ignore.

RUTH BADER GINSBURG: The venerable Supreme Court Justice and Super Hero has spent her career advocating for—and ushering in—victories women and girls.

DR. CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: The courageous woman who was brave enough to testify about her sexual assault—even in the face of threats against her life—inspired millions to rise up and resist the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

NANCY PELOSI: The Speaker of the House, which must be one of the toughest jobs in the world right now, wields a gavel like no other.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: One of two women elected in November who became the youngest representatives ever to serve in Congress didn’t take corporate money in her successful bid to unseat an incumbent—and never waivers on what she believes in.

ILHAN OMAR: This glass-ceiling-smasher is one of the first Muslim women and the first Somali-American elected to Congress, and the first woman of color to serve as U.S. Representative from Minnesota.

AYANNA PRESSLEY: The first black woman ever elected to Congress from Massachusetts isn’t there to play.

KRYSTEN SINEMA: The first openly bisexual member of Congress in the history of the U.S. chose to be sworn-in over a legal text that contained the Constitution instead of a Bible.

KAMALA HARRIS: The Senator who takes no guff—and asks the tough questions of Trump’s nominees.

ELIZABETH WARREN: The Senate voted to silence Warren when she tried to voice her objections during Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing. (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, infamously complained that “nevertheless she persisted.”) Warren had to finish her objections in the halls of the Senate.

Johanna Goodman is an artist based in New York City. She graduated from Parsons School of Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration in 1992 and has been a freelance illustrator ever since. Her work has garnered awards from The Society of Publication Design, American Illustration and Communication Arts. Her clients include the Sidney Hillman Foundation, The Paley Center for Media, Le Monde, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Bust, New York Magazine and Smithsonian Magazine, among many others. ms. blog digest banner

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Picks of the Week: Gender and Justice Intersecting On-Screen

Picks of the Week is Women and Hollywood’s newest resource. We are often asked for recommendations, so each week we’ll spotlight the women-driven and women-made projects—movies, series, VOD releases and more—that we’re most excited about. Sign up for the Women and Hollywood newsletter at to get each week’s pick delivered to your inbox.

Theatrical Release of the Week: Birds of Passage

Directed by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra; Written by Maria Camila Arias and Jacques Toulemonde Vidal

Based on a true story, Colombia-set Birds of Passage tells the story of the Wayuu, an indigenous group ravaged by the drug war. Kicking off in 1968, the epic is told in five parts and spans a dozen years. We witness Zaida (Natalia Reyes), a young woman from the revered Pushaina clan, performing an elaborate coming-of-age dance that attracts the attention of Rapayet (José Acosta), a poor orphan raised by his uncle.

The matriarch of Zaida’s family is unimpressed with her potential suitor, and demands a dowry that should prove impossible for him to deliver. But Rapayet figures out a way to fulfill the requirement: he gets involved in the marijuana business, forever changing the fate of the Wayuu tribe. Despite a high body count, the crime saga is anything but conventional.

A slow-burn, haunting story of family, honor, greed and capitalism, Birds of Passage is visually stunning and offers a fascinating look into the traditions of the Wayuu. (Laura Berger)

Read Women and Hollywood’s interview with Cristina Gallego.

Birds of Passage opens in NY February 13 and in LA February 15. Find screening info here.

Docuseries of the Week: “Lorena”

Lorena Bobbitt became a household name in 1993 when she cut off her then-husband’s penis with a kitchen knife while he slept. Her shocking attack—and the fact that her trial was televised—made her an overnight news sensation. A four-part docuseries, Amazon’s “Lorena” sees Bobbitt telling her side of the story, and exploring how so much of the racist and sexist news coverage surrounding the case—and tasteless jokes on late-night TV—often ignored or minimized the fact that she claimed her husband, John Wayne, physically and sexually abused her. Dismissed as a “hot-blooded Latina” and a “jealous wife,” Bobbitt had many witnesses corroborate her account of her husband’s monstrous behavior.

Cheesy and unnecessary reenactments aside, “Lorena” offers a powerful portrait of a woman pushed to the brink—and a nation wholly unprepared to deal with its epidemic of domestic abuse. The docuseries provides a helpful historical overview of what services and legal recourse were available to abused women at the time, or more accurately, the lack thereof. Hopefully the rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements will encourage Bobbitt skeptics to view the case through a new lens, and encourage all of us to do more for the millions of women who continue to be affected by domestic abuse. (LB)

“Lorena” will stream on Amazon Prime beginning February 15.

TV Movie of the Week: “Kim Possible”

No matter your age, chances are you’ll find something to love in “Kim Possible,” a new Disney Channel movie that’s also a Gen Z update of the beloved early-aughts cartoon. Kim is no longer animated, but she’s still everyone’s favorite straight-A student/crime fighter.

If you watched the original series, you’ll get a kick out of Christy Carlson Romano’s (i.e. the voice of the animated Kim) cameo, and the film’s many Easter eggs. If you think young girls need more ass-kicking role models like Buffy Summers, you’ll probably be delighted to see Alyson Hannigan—yes, Willow!—playing Kim’s brain surgeon mother. If you enjoy multi-generational stories about women, à la “Gilmore Girls” or “Jane the Virgin,” you’ll be psyched when Kim (Sadie Stanley), her mom, and her nana (Connie Ray) team up to take down the bad guys. If your favorite characters tend to be villains, you’ll bask in Shego’s (Taylor Ortega) scenes—between her side-eye and acid tongue, she pretty much steals the entire movie.

Most importantly, if you’re someone who appreciates a nuanced coming-of-age tale—especially one about a young woman in the midst of a huge life transition—“Kim Possible” delivers. Give or take the gymnastics skills and spy gadgets, we’ve all been in Kim’s shoes: the beginning of high school is rough, and figuring out your identity as a teen can feel impossible. But Kim makes her way through one shitty sitch after another and comes out the other side more confident than ever. Plus, she saves the world. (Rachel Montpelier)

“Kim Possible” premieres February 15 at 8pm ET on Disney Channel and DisneyNOW.

Women and Hollywood educates, advocates and agitates for gender diversity and inclusion in Hollywood and the global film industry. The site, founded in 2007 by Melissa Silverstein, sets the standard, defines the conversation, fuels coverage and reinforces messages throughout the specialized and mainstream media to call for gender parity on a daily basis. Follow W&H at @WomenaHollywood and Melissa @MelSil.

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Protect Your Heart: Connecting the Dots Between Maternal Health and Heart Health

You likely know the statistics: Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women and men, in the U.S. and worldwide. More than 400,000 women die each year from heart disease, and although death rates have been stable in the past 10 years, living with heart disease is physically, psychologically and financially burdensome for women and their families.

As researchers who work to identify risk factors for heart disease, we also know that mothers and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to heart disease.

The American Heart Association has designated February as Heart Month, with the Go Red for Women campaign, developed in 2004 to raise awareness about heart disease in women, marking a major centerpiece of their efforts. Yet greater awareness is needed on the link between pregnancy complications and later heart health risks.

Most of the time, women carry and safely deliver a healthy newborn—but sometimes, expectant mothers develop complications, termed “adverse pregnancy outcomes,” that threaten their own lives and those of their unborn child—including hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, such as preeclampsia; gestational diabetes; pre-term delivery at 37 weeks; and births of babies in the less than 10 percent height and weight percentile.

These adverse pregnancy outcomes are common, complicating 10 to 20 percent of pregnancies. They’re also dangerous. According to a 2018 study from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, women with a history of either preeclampsia or small-for-gestational age infant have a two-fold higher risk for heart disease and premature death, and women with the combination of both have up to an eight-fold higher risk of heart disease. And each year in the U.S., 50,000 women die during and immediately following pregnancy as the result of often common and treatable complications of pregnancy.

While many adverse pregnancy outcomes can be managed effectively during and immediately after pregnancy, others cannot. When they cannot, once hopeful families return home without their newborn or without their wives or partners. “The highs are so high,” a colleague who is a practicing obstetrician once commented on pregnancy, “but the lows are so low.”

Pregnancy is sometimes described as a “window to future cardiovascular health.” During patient interviews with women in my cardiology practice, women often report that the first time they were told they had high blood pressure was during pregnancy. One of my patients who is being treated for heart failure had a scary and complicated pregnancy that required her baby to be delivered early because she had dangerously high blood pressure. Many of my patients are not even aware that adverse pregnancy outcomes are the reason they are in my office.

Although the dangerous and deadly post-partum outcomes that take shape immediately warrant attention, the lifetime risks to a woman’s health are equally important. The strength of evidence linking adverse pregnancy outcomes with heart disease is so overwhelming that the leading guideline-making bodies in the field of cardiology, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, strongly advocate screening for adverse pregnancy outcomes in their recently updated guidelines.

One recommendation they make for clinicians is to ask women for a detailed history of their pregnancies, because doing so can identify women at increased risk of developing heart disease in the future. Experts also outline that pregnancy should be considered a natural “stress test” for women; according to these bodies, those who experience adverse pregnancy outcomes should receive the same enhanced risk status as a woman whose traditional “stress test” raises alerts.

Ideally, with more physicians asking questions about adverse pregnancy outcomes, more women will be empowered to ask the right questions about treatment options and get the treatment that they need. But making women aware of their risks for future heart disease is only effective if it leads to heart healthy behavior changes—including maintaining a healthy weight; eating a nutritious diet; sleeping seven to nine hours each night; and tracking cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose for diabetes (the primary risk factors for heart disease).

As mothers who each returned to work shortly after we had our children, both of us understand how difficult it is to prioritize our health when the needs of young children are so pressing. We understand that heart disease seems like a distant health risk when we are in our thirties and forties. We also know how frustrating, frightening and devastating it is to experience adverse pregnancy outcomes—and to know that our future heart health has become compromised.

For mothers, caring for our heart health is one more way we can show love for our children. For those who have lived through adverse pregnancy outcomes, mindfully addressing heart health can produce the best results for many years to come.

Mercedes Carnethon, Ph.D., is the Mary Harris Thompson Professor of Preventive Medicine and Chief of the Division of Epidemiology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.

Sadiya Khan, MD MS, is an Assistant Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) and Preventive Medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. 

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