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At the intersections
Stanford professors discuss race and gender in L.A.
At first sight, the scene at the Beverly Hills office of the Feminist Majority Foundation appeared typically “L.A.” There were valet parking, exotic hors d’oeuvres, director’s chairs, and the occasional Hollywood celebrity in the crowd. However, more than a hundred people gathered there not for the glamour but for knowledge - to hear scholars from Stanford University speak on a panel called “At The Intersections: Race, Gender, Power, and Belonging.”
The director’s chairs were meant for Shelley Correll, professor of sociology and director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research and Paula M. L. Moya, associate professor of English and director of the Modern Thought and Literature Program. Correll and Moya sat alongside moderator Ina Coleman, managing director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, the publisher of Ms. magazine.
Coleman thought up the idea of having a public discussion with Stanford scholars to talk about the ways in which the categories of race and gender continue to intersect.“Intersect” refers to a concept from feminist theory that describes how “intersecting” systems of race and gender oppression impact women.As a Stanford alumna and member of the advisory board for Stanford's Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, Coleman enlisted the help of her Center and the Clayman Institute for Gender Research.
“Women and women of color are slowly and steadily taking seats at the table of power and belonging.... [However] this progress and the increasing diversity of our nation is uncomfortable for some.”
Coleman began the evening’s discussion by citing statistics on the increase of women leaders within Fortune 500 companies. Likewise, she noted the growing influence of ethnic minorities and women voters in national politics.
“Women and women of color are slowly and steadily taking seats at the table of power and belonging,” Coleman said. “[However] this progress and the increasing diversity of our nation is uncomfortable for some.”
Bearing witness to ourselves
In a presentation called “Bearing Witness to Ourselves: The Literary Legacy of Women of Color,” Moya reminded the audience that while literature is a source of entertainment and pleasure, it is also “a rich archive of the ideas, values, and attitudes we hold about the world and the people in it.”
As such, explained Moya, the study of literature can tell us about the amount of power and belonging a person with a given identity is likely to have in society, while also helping to “heal the wounds created by the systems of race and gender.” Beyond that, some works of literature can “provide a way of imagining other ways of being in the world,” she said. Her research examines how such alternative ways of being are imagined in the fictional and non-fictional works of feminist writers and activists who theorized what it meant to be a woman of color in the late 1970s.
According to Moya, the writings of women of color such as Gloria Anzaldúa, Toni Cade Bambara, Joy Harjo, bell hooks, Cherríe Moraga, Maria Lugones, Barbara Smith, and Audre Lorde called attention to the multiplicity of human identity and the need to examine gender along with class, race, and sexuality. At their core, Moya argues, is an understanding of the way in which their self-concepts have been negatively shaped by the social structures in which they live. It is for that reason that the “brutal self-examinations” they conducted could “provide important information about the complex way in which our society is organized.”
Moya showcased Audre Lorde’s work to provide an example of how these women of color writers made self-acceptance and self-love a necessary step toward personal and societal change.
Moya shared with the audience one of Lorde’s most quoted passages from her celebrated 1984 essay, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House.” Lorde describes the act of survival as “learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures, in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths.”
According to Moya, creating a world in which “we can all flourish” involves not only bearing witness to our own pain but also reevaluating “what it means to be in relation to all of the human beings who do not fit that putative norm.” She adds, “we must, in other words, learn how to do difference differently.”
Mothers and others
As Correll’s presentation “Mothers and Others in the Workplace” demonstrated, employers need to “do difference differently,” by refraining from stereotyping mothers as less competent and less committed to their jobs than their childless counterparts. Correll’s research shows that employers have a bias against mothers, which results in a wage penalty. In her experiment, Correll had raters evaluate job applicants who were identically qualified.When the job applicant was identified as a mother, she earned about $11,000 less than when the very same applicant was not a mother.
But what happens when we add race and ethnicity as categories of analysis to the study of the motherhood wage penalty? Although Correll described the body of literature on this topic as “impoverished,”she pointed out a few studies that used an intersectional approach in examining mothers in the workplace. For example, a 1999study conducted by Ivy Kennelly found that employers frequently incorrectly assumed that black women were also single mothers.
Correll cited another study where researchers sought to find out which kind of mother got the best Mother’s Day present. They found that black mothers who worked got a better present than the black mothers who stayed at home. In contrast, the white stay-at-home mother received a better present than the working white mother. Why the disparity? Researchers explain that the different results were due to stereotypical expectations that black mothers should be in the paid workforce while white mothers are expected to be home with their children.
"We need to think what we can do at the organizational level to change the places where people are working and not just change individual women’s behavior.”
As for her own research, Correll discovered that though the black mothers weren't seen as less competent or less committed than white mothers, there was nonetheless a “race penalty” that resulted in $6,000 less in salary for all black applicants compared to their white counterparts.
Employers need to be held accountable for using stereotypes when making judgments about working mothers, said Correll. “We need to think what we can do at the organizational level to change the places where people are working and not just change individual women’s behavior.”
During the Q & A, the audience wanted to hear more about what could be done to dismantle the barriers that make it difficult for women and women of color to belong at the table of power with others.
Both Correll and Moya agreed that individual behavioral strategies such as working harder or changing one’s self-concept are not enough for rectifying structural inequalities.
Correll suggested putting careers and workplaces under the microscope instead of focusing on the individual mothers. Moya recommended using the classroom as a site for creating structures that allow for students to learn “what an intersectional feminist approach to race looks like in this contemporary post-race moment.”
As the speakers indicated, changing workplaces and expanding the conversation about race and gender will take some time. Nonetheless, Coleman concluded the evening by reminding the audience that “even the slowest of progress” needs to be celebrated.
Shelley J. Correll is the Barbara D. Finberg Director of the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. She is a professor in the department of sociology and an active member of the American Sociological Association.
Paula M. L. Moya is an associate professor of English and a Clayman Institute Faculty Research Fellow. Her publications include essays on race and ethnicity, feminist theory, multicultural pedagogy, and Latina/o and Chicana/o literature and identity.
Ina Coleman serves on Stanford University’s Council of the School of Humanities and Sciences and the university’s Advisory Board of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. She also serves on the Advisory Board of USC Annenberg’s Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.
Guadalupe Carrillo is a Clayman Institute Graduate Dissertation Fellow. She is a PhD candidate in English who specializes in US ethnic literature and women of color feminism. She is currently writing her dissertation, "Immigrant Heartbreak in the Contemporary US Novel.”