UMass Boston News

New Feminist Agenda: Former VT Governor Calls for Revolution in Work, Family Structures

McCormack Graduate School | April 05, 2013
Elizabeth Sherman, Dean Ira Jackson, Madeleine Kunin, and Betty Taymor

Dean Ira Jackson poses with (left to right) Elizabeth Sherman, Madeleine Kunin, and Betty Taymor.

Hers is an impressive résumé. Vermont state legislator, lieutenant governor, three-term governor.  Then deputy secretary of education, and later, United States Ambassador to Switzerland and Lichtenstein.

As part of the Leading Women Series on Women’s Public Leadership at the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, Madeleine Kunin took the podium at the Campus Center ballroom to address a large audience including alumnae and current students in the Graduate Certificate Program in Women in Politics and Public Policy.

Christa Kelleher, interim director of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy which co-sponsored the event with the Departments of Women's Studies and Political Science and several outside organizations, introduced the guest speaker. “In addition to attaining these positions of influence and leadership, Madeleine Kunin continues to make a difference through her scholarship, writing, and presentations.”

Her lecture focused on the topic of her latest book, The New Feminist Agenda: Defining the New Revolution for Women, Work and Family.

According to Kunin, despite the many doors that were opened for women in the 60s and 70s, many of today’s women are still not where they thought they would be. She explained that while women changed, work and family structures did not. Finding affordable and high-quality child care, securing paid family leave benefits, and earning equal pay for equal work is still out of reach for many women.

In addition to these policy changes, she called for a revolution at home as well. More men need to share in maintaining the house and raising children. “Shared roles at home are a real fundamental change, a cultural attitude change” that is required if women are to achieve true equality.

In an international comparison, Kunin noted that the United States “has fallen far behind other parts of the world on the gender-equity front. We lag behind more than 70 countries when it comes to the percentage of women holding elected federal offices. Only 17 percent of corporate boards include women members. And just five percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by women.”

Kunin calls for change, the next feminist revolution−one that mobilizes both men and women “to call for the kind of government and workplace policies that can improve the lives of women and strengthen families.”

To be an agent of change, Kunin identified four key ingredients. First, you must be “angry, upset, [and] mad, whether it’s about global climate change or a stop sign needed in your neighborhood.”  Second, “You have to have the imagination to permit a different reality.” Next, “Empathy is required−the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes.” And finally, she called for optimism. Paraphrasing a Thomas Friedman quote, she noted, “Pessimists are usually right, but optimists can change the world.”

Kelleher remarked, “I remember very well writing an email message almost two years ago to the head of a think tank here in Boston with my young baby beside me. I recall writing with conviction and passion about how the lack of paid family and medical leave in the U.S. didn’t reflect bad public policy. I wrote that it represented inhumane public policy.” By the audience response, they agreed.

Program and center founders were on campus for the event and an alumnae reception which proceeded it. Betty Taymor, who began the grant-funded graduate certificate program at Boston College in the 70s, was joined by Elizabeth Sherman who replaced her and moved the program to UMass Boston under a new center by the same name.

Following the 30-minute lecture, there was a moderated discussion as well as a book signing.

Also of note: Listen to Kunin's interview with Dean Ira A. Jackson on Commonwealth Journal, WUMB 91.9 FM

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