Alumni Spotlight: Pem Brown


Please introduce yourself (name, year, concentration, activities you participated in at Heller, what you are doing now):

Pem Brown, 2011, poverty alleviation (plus joint M.A. in women’s and gender studies). Now I work at M+R helping national non-profits run digital fundraising and advocacy programs.

What were you doing before you came to Heller?

I spent three years working at NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, a reproductive rights non-profit in Boston, doing fundraising and communications. I also spent time volunteering for various progressive political campaigns around the state.

Why did you decide to come to Heller?

I was really drawn to the social justice orientation of the school and program, plus I was really excited for the joint women’s and gender studies degree.

What are some of the classes/activities that really enjoyed at Heller?

I took an amazing interdisciplinary course during my first year through the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies called Gender and Poverty in the United States. My final semester, I took a course called Legitimizing (In)equality: Attitudes, Beliefs, and Social Policy, which focused on how issues of poverty have been framed in political and media discourse in the United States. I also helped plan the annual DC spring break trips, which were a lot of fun.

Can you say a little about where you were and what you did for your summer internship?

I knew after Heller, I wanted to stay in Boston, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to spend my summer internship somewhere else working on national policy. I lived in DC and interned at the National Partnership for Women and Family. I got to focus on work/family policy, which was what I had been studying at Heller.

How do you use the skills you learned at Heller in your profession?

So much of what I do at M+R is to help boil down complicated political and policy issues to get people to take action, whether that be donating or contacting their elected officials. While writing for the digital space is quite different than the long research papers that are staples of most of Heller’s courses, the program’s emphasis on clear and concise writing continues to serve me well. Also, having an understanding of statistical significance is helpful for analyzing the email and web tests we run for our clients.


Student Spotlight: Allison Miller

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Please introduce yourself (name, year, concentration, activities or positions you might hold here at Heller):

My name is Allison Miller and I am a current first year MPP student at Heller. My concentration is in Women and Gender Studies and I am focusing on how gender affects immigration experiences in the US. As a WGS concentrator, I have joined the Gender Working Group and am grateful to help contribute to their awesome programs and activities.


What were you doing before you came to Heller?

Before coming to Heller I worked  in healthcare but was doing part-time work as an au pair recruiter for a friend of mine who runs an English academy and au pair program in Spain. Attempting to help set up educational programs for students but constantly running into the confines of legal migration laws regarding work founded my desire to better understand these U.S. policies. This, combined with the experiences I gained in previous volunteer work for my school’s Women’s Center, led me to create a focus on immigrant women within the US.


Why did you decide to come to Heller?

I was attracted to Heller specifically because the school’s focus on social justice and genuine desire to help spread social inclusion in our society. I could tell that the classes wouldn’t just be about learning policies and laws but would really teach me how to create policies that genuinely help people.


What are some of the classes/activities that you’ve really enjoyed here at Heller?

As a WGS concentrator, I was extremely thankful for the opportunity to take a class on law and social justice with Professor Anita Hill. By teaching us first-hand about the progression of women’s rights in our country, she challenged the way many of us address social policy. Her course stressed the importance of creating policies in our nation that promote social justice for all.


Student Spotlight: Adrienne Beck


Please introduce yourself (name, year, concentration, activities or positions you might hold here at Heller):
My name is Adrienne Beck. I am a second year MPP concentrating in Women and Gender Studies and I have been a part of the LGBTQIA+ and Gender Working Groups while at Heller.

What were you doing before you came to Heller?
After college I completed a term of service of ten months with AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps). I was based in Denver, CO serving the southwest region of the United States. I served on a team that lived and worked together completing community service projects including mentoring kids at Boys and Girls Clubs and providing free tax preparation services. Since then I have worked in customer service and donor services, most recently with Heifer International, a non-profit organization geared towards ending poverty and hunger worldwide.

Why did you decide to come to Heller?
Coming from a direct service background, I love being able to work directly with individuals. However, through my experience I also learned how important the overall policies and systems in place is to the success of the work happening on the ground. The Heller School became the ideal place to combine my interest in policy and structural change to address social issues, especially those impacting the LGBTQIA+ community.

What are some of the classes/activities that you’ve really enjoyed here at Heller?
The two classes that I have enjoyed the most while at Heller have been the Law and Social Justice courses taught by Professor Hill. These courses challenged the way I think about and address social justice within public policy. Our class regularly had thought provoking and dynamic conversations that have defined my experience at Heller and how I plan on addressing social policy in the future.

If you have done a summer internship, can you say a little about where you were and what you did?
I spent my summer internship at Greater Boston PFLAG here in Waltham. PFLAG is a non-profit organization that works for the LGBTQIA+ community and their family and friends through support, advocacy and education. I led the Advocacy Intern team working in conjunction with the Freedom Massachusetts campaign to pass statewide legislation that would update the existing public accommodations law to provide protections for gender identity. I also collaborated with the Impact Team to make program recommendations to schools and organizations for best practices trainings and workshops to create and foster safe and inclusive spaces for LGBTQIA+ individuals.

The Mommy Economy

The United States hasn’t broken down the gendered division of labor; we’ve globalized it and hidden it behind the micro mommy economy.

As women began to enter the traditional labor market throughout the latter part of the 20th century we saw a shift in the demographic makeup of typically male dominated fields like medicine and business. However the makeup of women in the market increased sexist social standards, and has only served to buttress gendered market ideologies, resulting in a conservative paradigm shift where a liberal one was needed. Instead of symbiotic movement of women into the workforce and men into the home, the household labor remained feminized and therefore undervalued. As women’s access to traditional labor fields has expanded, a demand for in home care workers has also increased.

Changing gender demographics in US labor markets commoditized motherhood according to western origin gendered division of labor standards disseminating a corrupt and unequal global care chain that allows for wealthy women and families in the United States to maintain their careers whilst simultaneously retaining their motherhood thereby robbing women from peripheral countries of their ability to nurture and love their own children.

The 1960s feminist advocacy for gender equity in the labor market created a paradoxical economic fissure: women were now “valued” but the work of women continued to be monetarily degraded. The continued absence of men in the home and flood of women out of it led to the unique double bind of the Second Shift. Arlie Hochschild’s The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution explored the US labor phenomenon of women gaining access to public labor markets, while still being bound to drive the private labor market within the home. Hochschild describes at length the heteronormative societal structures controlling the US labor economy that led to women’s work vs. men’s careers.

However, since Second Shift’s publishing in 1989 what should have occurred was a general change in United States policies towards a recognition and value of motherhood resulting in better maternity and paternity leave programs creating a balanced system of value for both traditionally masculine and feminized labor traits. Instead what resulted are global care chains that have allowed for arguably a politically correct indentured servitude.

UC Davis Professor Rhacel Parrenas describes how this non sequitur ideological change in gender politics led to the creation of a global care chain. In her book, Servants of Globalization: Migration and Domestic Work she posits, “as demand for care [in the home] has increased, its supply has dwindled. The result is a care deficit, to which women from the Philippines have responded in force.”

Parrenas estimates that 2% of the global population illegally migrates with the intention to create a better life for themselves or their families, and that 34 to 54 percent of the Filipina population is partially sustained through remittances from migrant workers. Most Filipina women in the United States will work as nannies for wealthy families and send upwards of $40 a week home to their families, whom many of the immigrating women haven’t seen in over 10 years. The interviews and ethnographic research conducted by Parrenas graphically depicts the heaviness and burden of loving the child they are with while hoping that those charged back home with caring for their own families are doing the same.

The global care chain has created a privileging of who is allowed to be a mother to their children: white and wealthy families retain the privilege to physically love their children, to hug them. Families of migrant workers sacrifice physical caregiving for the hope of a food on the table back home. The US labor market’s denial of motherhood as a financially worthwhile endeavor for American women has forced US mother’s to conform to patriarchal standards of work while shirking the de-valued duties of motherhood onto a de-valued group of workers, migrant women.

The United States has along storied history of patriarchy and sexism that is so ingrained within the culture that it is an inescapable part of our narrative. But the globalization of the world’s economies has led to a commodification of motherhood that is horrifying and unjust. The right to mother should be a right. Not a privilege only afforded the American elite.

By: Caroline Swaller
M.P.P./M.A. in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies


The Federal Earned Income Tax Credit: What Does It Mean for Women?

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which lifted 6.2 million people out of poverty in 2013, receives greater adoration than it should. While the program supplements the low wages of  27 million people, it also forces parents, especially women, to choose between being a good employee and being a good parent. 

 The federal tax credit, originally enacted in 1975 under the Ford administration, serves to offset payroll and income taxes for America’s low- and moderate-income populations. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) touts the success of the program, stating that, “This creates an incentive for people to leave welfare for work and for low-wage workers to increase their work hours.”

 On average, a married couple with children receives $3,054 in federal EITC. The average married couple without children earns $281. Single, childless individuals are ineligible for the credit if their income rests just above the federal poverty line at $14,800. Families can earn above the average if they work more, until the credit phases out at roughly $53,000 annual income. With the supplemental monies provided by the federal EITC, working American families have been able to afford basic necessities, home repairs, vehicle maintenance, and, in some cases, additional education or job training.

 Certainly, the above figures demonstrate the undeniable benefit of the federal EITC in America’s low-wage working households, especially in the midst of continually stagnant wages. What CBPP and many other reporting organizations miss with such statistics, however, are the finer details of who receives the federal EITC and the implications for their incentivized work schedule.

 Because the federal EITC is targeted toward low- and moderate-income workers, it is targeted more specifically, though seemingly indirectly, to incentivize women’s work and departure from welfare rolls because women represent two-thirds of the 23 million low-wage workers in this country. In low-wage working households, seventy percent of women are the primary breadwinner. According to data provided by Sharon Hays in Flat Broke With Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform, women with children dominate the welfare rolls, representing over ninety percent of all welfare clients. More strikingly, only seven percent of welfare cases are two-parent households. 

 Exacerbating the stark reality of that data is the pressure and guilt the public sphere continues to place on women to choose between being a good, working, wage-earning citizen and being a good, present, and attentive mother. Low-wage, single mothers are at a particularly unfair advantage as they are confined by fewer options in terms of familial financial stability and familial care. In Flat Broke With Children, Sharon Hays coined this dichotomy as the Work Plan and the Family Plan. Hays used the two theoretical terms to explain that in the Work Plan of welfare reform, work requirements rehabilitate mothers into productive, independent, self-sufficient members of society. The Family Plan of welfare reform, on the other hand, punishes mothers for their inability to get and stay married.

 The CBPP released a report in January of this year indicating that a low-wage worker working full-time making the federal minimum wage will only earn $15,000 in a year. Thus, while the EITC helps make up for an unjustifiably unjust wage, its goal to remove people from welfare and place them in the job market overlooks the detriment of low wages, and it serves to rather force parents, single mothers especially, to choose between being good parents and being good workers.  

 Incentivizing low-wage work then serves more to perpetuates untrue theories about elements of poverty, welfare, and participants in the workplace by overlooking the forced decision parents have to make between work or caring for children. Financially, additional work hours are necessary given current wages. But morally, it is unfair to further remove parents – mothers specifically – from their children, thus eroding various familial and support networks and perpetuating cycles of poverty.

 Furthermore, the work incentive ignores the cultural values attached to motherhood. While women’s participation in the workforce has grown exponentially in recent decades, their expected roles at home remain rooted in traditionalism. Arlie Hochschild captures this dynamic dilemma well through a series of anecdotes in The Second Shift. By detailing the housework and childrearing responsibilities that working women are still expected to champion after their market-place work on a daily basis, Hochschild explains that women work an additional month every year caring for their families.

 Consequently, praising the EITC for its ability to encourage people to work more hours in low-paying service sector jobs dismisses and devalues the impacts of the intended goals of women and the expectations of women’s womanhood. Female-headed, dual-income households and single-mother households may be better off financially because of the EITC, but it does little more than burden mothers to be the supermoms of an unrealistic superhero story.

Anna Mahathey
Dual MPP/MA WGSS ‘17

The Status of Women in the United States: A Data Driven Overview

Trigger Warning: this post contains alarming statistics about violence against women and abortion rights that could be triggering or cause emotional distress.

The status of women in the United States is brutal. We don’t make as much money; we don’t have paid leave (shout out to California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York: you rock!). Conservative lawmakers and religious fundamentalists are taking our rights to our bodies away and our bodies are actively and violently invaded everyday against our will and without our consent. The status of women is painful to come to terms with and impossible to live with anymore. This fact sheet is quick and dirty, but hopefully it will inspire you to join the fight for gender equality. #GirlsCan

Employment and Earnings

  • Women earn only 78.3 cents for every dollar that a man makes.
  • Women are not projected to make equal pay until: 2038.


And it’s even worse for anyone of a minority status. African American women make 64 cents on the dollar and Latinas make only 56 cents on the dollar.


Poverty and Opportunity
The poverty rate for women (14.7 percent) was 3.8 percentage points higher than it was for men (10.9 percent). The extreme poverty rate for women (6.6 percent) was 1.7 percentage points higher than it was for men (4.9 percent).


Women make up an uneven distribution of the low paid workforce

  • Women are ⅔ of the 20 million workers in U.S. low-wage workforce
    • Women only slightly less than 50% of American workforce
  • Women’s concentration in low-wage jobs has increased
    • 35% of post recession net job gains were low-wage
    • Only 20% for men

Reproductive Rights
Women face an ongoing and uphill battle to retain the rights to their own bodies.

This term the Supreme Court will decide how far state’s rights expand into a woman’s own uterus as they consider the constitutionality of Texas Law H.B. 2 which places unfair and unethical medical standards on abortion clinics. If the Supreme Court upholds the law, all but 10 abortion clinics in the largest state in the contiguous US will be forced to close.

The national debate on access to abortion has gotten so downright nasty that many conservatives no longer support abortion in the cases of rape, because as former Missouri Todd Akin so eloquently stated, “the female body has ways of just shutting that down.”


Truth be told Todd Akin is partially correct, when women don’t have access to medically induced abortions we do shut it down, with back alleys, coat hangers, and staircases. #neveragain

Violence and Safety
Women’s Rights are human rights but looking at the statistics on violence against women we are treated like anything but human.

  • 1 in 5 women will be raped before they graduate from college
  • 1 in 9 teenage girls will be coerced or forced into having sex
  • 1 in 10 teens will experience intimate partner related violence
  • Women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes every year.

These statistics are high and far too alarming. Stay tuned for a later blog post about the violent state of women in America that further unpacks key statistics, laws and resources for women in the battle against sexual assault and sexual violence.

LGBTQIA Community and Sexual and Domestic Violence
Here for our thoughts on recent discriminatory laws passed in Mississippi and North Carolina? Stay tuned, stick around, and keep that angry curiosity alive. The posts are coming. But in the meantime….

Gender stereotyping means many in the LGBTQIA community are left out of the discussion on domestic and sexual violence even though they are often one of the most at risk populations. According to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey:

  • 44 percent of lesbians and 61 percent of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 35 percent of heterosexual women
  • 46 percent of bisexual women have been raped, compared to 17 percent of heterosexual women and 13 percent of lesbians
  • 22 percent of bisexual women have been raped by an intimate partner, compared to 9 percent of heterosexual women

This fact sheet is a toughie. It was not fun to write and it is not fun to read because contrary to what Cyndi Lauper says girls just want fundamental rights.

But we have to fight for the things we care about and take umbrage at those who think us less.  So keep your favorite Audre Lorde quotes on standby, Beyoncé on repeat, and your self-care squad on speed dial. It’s going to be a wicked and wild month of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

Uteruses before dudereses. Stay strong my lady identifying friends and allies!
Peace, love, and pissed about the patriarchy,

Caroline E. Swaller
Dual MPP/MA WGSS ‘17

Introduction to the Women’s and Gender Studies Concentration/Dual Degree

This month the MPPSA blog will focus on our Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) program. The Heller School currently offers two options for Public Policy students who are interested in studying, evaluating, and critiquing policy initiatives that intersect with gender and sexuality. The first option is a Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) concentration, which is similar to the other concentrations within the MPP program.

The other option is a dual Masters in Public Policy and Master of Arts in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) dual degree, in which students take courses both within and out of Heller. This option allows students to gain an interdisciplinary approach to policy implementation, as well as an intersectional framework for understanding the role that race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, socioeconomic status, ability, and nationality place in shaping public policy.

Students who choose the WGS concentration and the WGSS dual degree have a wide range of interests, including, but not limited to:

  • Income and Wealth Inequality
  • Food Justice
  • Mass Incarceration
  • Reproductive Justice
  • The Implementation of Title IX
  • Sexual Assault on College Campuses
  • LGBTQ Rights
  • Trans Youth
  • Health Policy

Professor Laurie Nsiah-Jefferson is the Concentration Chair for the WGS concentration and is a Senior Scientist and Senior Lecturer at the Heller School.

Classes offered this semester that may count toward the WGS concentration and/or the WGSS dual degree are:

  • The American Gay Rights Movement: Social Justice and Social Policy – Susan Curnan
  • Black Feminist Thought – Professor Johnson
  • Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Research Seminar – Professor Bernadette, Brooten

Students within the WGS concentration and the WGSS dual degree also have the opportunity to take courses in the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies. The Consortium is based at MIT and brings together students, scholars, and teachers from nine academic institutions in the Greater Boston area in order to advance interdisciplinary gender studies scholarship.

The Consortium typically offers two to three courses each semester. This semester the following courses were offered:

  • Feminist Inquiry
  • Feminism and Islam
  • Changing Life: Genes, Ecologies, and Texts

The Consortium also offers talks, discussions, conferences, and film series throughout the year.

We hope you enjoy learning more about the Women’s and Gender Studies concentration and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies dual degree through our blog content this month!

Brie McLemore

MPP/M.A. in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies ’17