Read Full Story Rachel Sklar, founder of Change The Ratio and TheLi.st, spoke to the Shorenstein Center about gender disparity in the tech business, and how the ratio of men to women could be shifted toward more equality. The event was co-sponsored by the Women and Public Policy Program.Sklar, who is a media writer and social media entrepreneur, acknowledged that there is an increasing number of women in leadership positions, and while this is good news, “as soon as the ratio gets a little better,” people tend to think nothing more needs to be done. Sklar argued that while progress is being made, the fight for a balanced ratio is still ongoing.Audio
Dorchester native Bria Dubose was just 14 when she began working at Harvard as a junior counselor at the Phillips Brooks House Association’s (PBHA) Franklin Hill/Franklin Field Camp.Dubose recalled that she had just entered her freshman year of high school when she accepted the junior counselor position at the day camp, which is part of the PBHA Summer Urban Program. “I had no idea about PBHA, and never would have thought that I could have the chance to be part of Harvard,” she said. “It changed my perspective completely.”That transformative opportunity repeated itself as Dubose returned to the camps in successive summers, working her way from junior to senior counselor. The 12 camps, held at sites across Boston and Cambridge, are run by more than 150 high school and college students. This year, the Summer Urban Program served more than 800 area campers, ages 6 to 13.Now a sophomore at Lesley University, Dubose served as one of the directors for PBHA’s Leaders! program this summer. The program strives to empower the almost 100 low-income Boston and Cambridge youth between 15 and 18 years old who are employed by the camps as junior counselors to serve children and young teens in their own communities.Counselors receive full-time teaching and mentoring for the camps’ 10-week program. In addition, they receive full access to the University, including its libraries; mentoring; and leadership development during the school year — as well as paychecks.“It’s not a job that you can just walk into,” Dubose said, but “the training they give us has definite real-life applications. In fact, during my freshman year of college, I took a class that was introducing concepts I learned and experienced through PBHA when I was 14 years old. This place can easily put you ahead of the curve.”A junior at Boston University, Jorge Santana first learned of PBHA when he became a Mission Hill camper at age 13.Like Dubose, Santana worked as a junior counselor throughout high school before becoming a senior counselor. For the past two years, he has been directing the Mission Hill Summer Program, which serves the lower-income community there.In addition, as the organization’s assessment and evaluation coordinator, Santana has the distinction of being the first person elected a member of PBHA’s officer team who does not attend Harvard. The association’s history at Harvard dates back to 1904.Before learning about PBHA’s summer camps, “I would just stay home in the summer and watch TV,” Santana said. “I didn’t gain anything from that.”That changed with camp. While fun is encouraged through afternoon field trips in and around Boston, mornings are dedicated to stimulating intellectual challenges and academic achievement.Each week, campers must complete two hours of math and two hours of literacy for their respective grade levels. Beyond that, junior counselors are encouraged to build curricula around the fields and subjects they are passionate about — whether that’s an introduction to the United Nations, music theory, or learning how to cook.“PBHA’s Summer Urban Program creates opportunities for all those involved,” said Maria Dominguez Gray, executive director of PBHA. “Campers and families benefit from enriching programming and a community deeply invested in children’s academic and socio-emotional success. The teens are engaged in meaningful employment that offers needed job- and life-skills development and fosters the belief in self and one’s future so critical to positive choices moving forward.“The college students who direct and teach in this program learn so much about themselves, about leadership, effective education, program development, and the challenges facing urban communities, learning that extends far beyond their classrooms.”One of the successes of the program, Santana said, was its approach of viewing the city of Boston as a classroom without walls. By working closely with various organizations, exposing students to new neighborhoods and environments, the program could help to reduce tensions between neighborhoods, and the violence that can erupt as a result.“I grew up with that tension and understood what it meant,” Santana said. “You weren’t supposed to walk through certain neighborhoods, and people from other neighborhoods weren’t supposed to walk through yours. But collaborating with various organizations throughout the city exposes kids to different areas and lowers that tension. Hopefully, that will help reduce that kind of violence as well.”For Santana and Dubose, being involved in the summer program didn’t just provide them with experience that will help them through college and what lies beyond. It also had a profound impact on their desire to give back to their communities.“When I run into girls whom I worked with several summers ago, they have all these memories about things I taught them,” Dubose said. “I’ll have forgotten, of course, but they remember. To know you’ve impacted the life of a young person in that way, and to see it again and again, year by year, is very powerful.”
Consumers with high-deductible health plans do not appear to be more motivated to shop around for less expensive, higher quality medical care than those with lower-deductible plans, according to a study by Anna Sinaiko, research scientist in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and colleagues.The findings were published online in a research letter January 19, 2016 in JAMA Internal Medicine. It’s been thought that consumers paying more of their own money for health care – or having “skin in the game,” as the authors described it – would want to shop around. However, the authors’ Internet survey of about 2,000 adults with either high-deductible or lower-deductible health plans found only about 10% of those in each group reported considering other doctors the last time they purchased medical care. Only about 4% compared costs.“Simply increasing a deductible, which gives enrollees skin in the game, appears insufficient to facilitate price shopping,” the authors wrote. The authors found a need for “greater availability of price information” and “innovative approaches” to make information easier for consumers to use. Read Full Story
In the past few years, more than 13,000 Harvard faculty, students, and staff, individually or in groups, have created more than 6,500 websites on Harvard’s OpenScholar platform, a free, open-source software project based on technology invented and developed at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science (IQSS).Now available to the Harvard community through a hosted service run in collaboration with Harvard University Information Technology (HUIT) and Harvard Public Affairs and Communications (HPAC), OpenScholar distributes a considerable volume of information by and about Harvard scholars, departments, centers, and projects. It provides the first coherent online presentation of the Harvard brand, empowers individual scholars to create excellent websites, and has saved the University more than $100 million in external Web development fees.It started with faculty websites.“We conceived of OpenScholar because of an opportunity we noticed at IQSS,” said Gary King, the Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor and director of IQSS, “but we tried to write the software-based solution sufficiently generally so that the entire University, and indeed other universities, could benefit.”King said IQSS’s affiliates and leaders of the institute’s centers, programs, and projects routinely asked IQSS to pay their substantial Web development costs. “We then studied these sites and realized that pretty much all scholar Web sites” — 99 percent — “are structurally identical. Every one has lists of courses, publications, CVs, contact information, and many other common features, even though the design of each is often unique.”In response, IQSS invented a single software installation, with the information in all scholar websites represented in one database. OpenScholar lets each scholar choose his or her own URL, graphic design, and look and feel, and massively reduces the costs of running the site.The software is free for anyone at Harvard. It is self-service, and does not require any programming knowledge.As an alternative, users can seek expert help from Harvard Web Publishing, the University’s in-house Web publishing group, which will help build a site at rates well below those of outside vendors. HWP also offers product support and training.Based on social science researchOpenScholar helps scholars disseminate, promote, and make the knowledge created at Harvard more accessible to others. OpenScholar’s approach is closely tailored to the needs of academia, so the result is far more impactful than sites designed with general-purpose website builder tools.The system was also designed to include incentives. For example, OpenScholar automatically and instantly pushes its publications to indexing services such as Google Scholar, DASH, RePEc, and the Web of Science, to increase the Web visibility and even academic citation counts of works on its sites. All project metrics are public and change in real time. Harvard scholars have responded by posting on their websites more than 72,000 publications and more than 300,000 associated files.OpenScholar also lets faculty choose individualized presentation and unique branding. Its sites are “totally customizable,” said Bilsi Balakrishnan, the software development lead for the project. From URL to theming to whether to include a Twitter feed, each site can look and feel like no other.Data science for HarvardOpenScholar was designed to help leverage Harvard’s internal store of “big data.” Quantitative social scientists such as the researchers at IQSS are playing a critical role in developing methods to make sense of staggering quantities of data — all toward the goal solving the challenges that plague society. OpenScholar applied these same principles to Harvard. It also comprises a centralized database of information about Harvard’s scholars, labs, centers, and departments, compiled in a structured format that can be shared, quantified, and analyzed. OpenScholar gives the University access to massive and growing quantities of information about itself in a systematized and actionable format. It also has better information than ever before —hundreds of millions of Web clicks and other online behavior, and real-time information about trending interests, discoveries, and concerns — about what about Harvard interests the outside world.Working together to help HarvardNow celebrating its sixth year, OpenScholar continues to enjoy and grapple with the challenges of ever-increasing adoption. “If anything goes down, even in the middle of the night, we’re there,” said Balakrishnan. Making a system that can cope with that kind of demand, and grow with users’ changing needs, is both challenging and rewarding. “Our traffic has doubled in the last year alone,” she said.Growth is being driven in part by the team’s continued commitment to improving the product. Balakrishnan said her group is in the process of overhauling the administrative interface to improve the user experience. “We want users to be able to manage their sites even more easily.”Mercè Crosas, IQSS’s chief data science and technology officer, added, “Software is never finished. Technology keeps improving, allowing us to make components faster and more interactive.”OpenScholar increasingly is becoming the go-to source for academic sites not only at Harvard, but beyond, with installations at institutions such as Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and many others, As King noted, “Harvard is in the business of creating, preserving, and distributing knowledge. We made OpenScholar open-source so other universities could benefit as well.”Most recently, OpenScholar has streamlined the process of obtaining an academic website for thousands of scholars, making global interconnectivity immediate and significantly less expensive.“Part of the University’s mission is getting the knowledge created here out there,” said IQSS Executive Director Cris Rothfuss. “That’s what OpenScholar does.”
Read Full Story Maj. Gen. William E. Rapp has been named military affairs lecturer and director of the National Security Fellows (NSF) program at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS).Rapp is currently Commandant of the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a position he assumed in 2014. Prior to that appointment, Rapp served as Commanding General for National Support Element for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, as Commander of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, and as Commander of the northwestern division of the Army Corps of Engineers.“General Rapp is an accomplished and respected career military officer, whose addition to our faculty indicates the strong commitment we have as a school to our U.S. military students, their education, and our national security. HKS will benefit greatly from his deep and rich experience as a professional military educator and leader,” said Archon Fung, Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship and HKS Academic Dean.As director of the National Security Fellows program, Rapp will set the strategic direction for the program, which offers a 10-month postgraduate research fellowship for U.S. military officers and U.S. government civilian officials from the Intelligence Community who show promise of rising to the most challenging leadership positions in their organizations. Selection for this program is done by the respective military services and agencies.
This is one in a series of profiles showcasing some of Harvard’s stellar graduates.Neither Wirun Limsawart’s knowledge as a doctor nor his work as a hospital manager could help him resolve Thailand’s national crisis over health care malpractice.“I had experience as a physician, medical administrator, and medical activist, but all of that couldn’t solve this kind of problem,” Limsawart recalled. “I decided I should have another professional skill.”But his path to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, which culminates in his receiving his Ph.D. in medical anthropology this May, gave him more than additional technical expertise and a double-meaning title to his name.“I have a particular set of knowledge I made myself. This acumen is useful not only for people in Thailand, but many other places,” he said last month, days before defending his dissertation on universal health care coverage and tuberculosis control.Limsawart, who is married and has three young children, will return to Thailand to work as a policy researcher for the Ministry of Public Health. In Bangkok, he will join the ministry’s Society and Health Institute, the institution dedicated to bringing medical anthropology into practical applications and policy discussions.“I’m excited to begin to implement my work. My team in Thailand has begun to write a project to continue working on tuberculosis control, and why we [haven’t been able to] control this epidemic. Even though we have knowledge and technology, we’re stuck,” he said.The challenging nature of Limsawart’s academic work was matched by a difficult personal journey, one that affected his entire family. Three months before finishing medical school in 2001, he suffered a seizure for what would eventually be diagnosed as a brain tumor. It would return during his Ph.D. studies in the U.S., forcing him to undergo a second surgery, in 2013, and to be hospitalized after another seizure last December. Additionally, Limsawart’s wife has suffered endometriosis and complications caused by delayed care. The chronic pain once left her bedridden for an extended time, and it required the removal of her uterus last year during Limsawart’s fieldwork in the borderland between Thailand and Myanmar.,“It has been a very intense experience,” he said. “Sometimes it was hard to continue with my studies, but I did. My advisers Byron Good and Arthur Kleinman — without them I not only couldn’t have finished my Ph.D., but I could not have survived.”Kleinman, Esther and Sidney Rabb Professor of Anthropology and professor of medical anthropology in global health and social medicine and of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, called Limsawart’s work and his humanity “remarkable.”“What’s most impressive about Wirun is that he belongs to a lineage of deeply morally and politically committed Thai physicians who have brought very high health standards of care to especially very poor Thais living in rural parts of the country. This movement isn’t just admirable; it’s one that needs a fuller understanding,” Kleinman said. “It’s generation by generation of doctors who have gone out to do good in the world. He’s been the chronicler both of this movement and its fruits.”All the more remarkable for completing his Ph.D. while facing his family’s ongoing health challenges, the 42-year-old has plans to use the lessons learned from their own illnesses, particularly his wife’s, to inform his future work.“When I speak to people, especially to medical doctors — I’m a doctor myself — sometimes it’s difficult to make them listen to you, especially when you talk about something they don’t believe. In Boston, we met a good gynecologist who did one thing — she listened and believed my wife’s story and her pain,” he said. “When I return home, I will work on tuberculosis for the next decades, but also endometriosis. My wife still suffers as do many women around the world. I think I am now in a good position to pursue study and make change.”
Master of public health students at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health gathered to display and discuss their field work at a poster session on Nov. 13, 2018 in Kresge Cafeteria.The event featured work from more than 25 students from the fields of environmental health, global health, health policy, and social behavior who worked for eight weeks during summer of 2018 with host organizations — ranging from local to international — to address public health problems. Faculty, alumni, and DrPH students judged the final projects.Magali Flores ’19 won first place for her work on mental health access among recently deported Latino men. Her host organization was the Tijuana-based Casa del Migrante.Noam Yossefy ’19 won second place for her work on pursuing legal action against opioid pharmaceutical companies. Her host organization was the Mayor of Boston’s Office of Recovery Services.Jessica Kilpatrick ’19 won third place for her work on air pollution near childcare and early education facilities. Her host organization was the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.Nayely Chavez ’19 won the audience favorite award for her work on evaluating the integration of behavioral health into primary care. Her host organization was the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission. Read Full Story
Lawrence Lessig has long crusaded against the influence of money in politics. But in a new book, the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School casts his sights on the broader topic of reinvigorating democracy. In “They Don’t Represent Us: Reclaiming Our Democracy,” Lessig argues that the nation’s political system is in a state of dysfunction, mired in partisanship and dominated by special interests. The Gazette recently spoke to Lessig about how it got this way and how he believes it can be fixed.Q&ALawrence LessigGAZETTE: What are some of the most obvious signs that our representative government is not all that representative?LESSIG: Once you see this unrepresentativeness in one place you see it every place. Gerrymandering is pretty obvious to people in its unrepresentativeness. The Electoral College through its winner-take-all system is obviously unrepresentative. The way votes get suppressed by states attempting to entrench the party in power is obviously unrepresentative. The U.S. Senate is obviously unrepresentative. And most fundamentally and most grotesquely, the way we fund campaigns is obviously unrepresentative. Each of these dimensions produces an inherently, unavoidably unrepresentative representative democracy, and that seems to be the core problem that we must find a way to reform.GAZETTE: You argue that the problem is not that our political system benefits the rich but that it benefits no one. How so?LESSIG: I don’t mean to suggest that it doesn’t benefit the rich. It’s just that it’s not just benefiting the rich. The rich benefit obviously because of their influence in the funding of campaigns. It’s only the rich who fund campaigns in any significant way, and it’s clearly the rich whom representatives bend over backward to make happy in their behavior as representatives. But my point is that when you think the way each of the dimensions of unrepresentativeness has its effect, it’s not always benefiting the rich. So when the Republican Party suppresses the votes of Democrats, primarily African Americans in states like Georgia, it’s not that that’s necessarily benefiting the rich in Georgia. It’s benefiting the Republicans in Georgia. Or with gerrymandering, the people it’s benefiting are the extremists. The extremist Democrats and the extremist Republicans are not necessarily the rich Democrats or the rich Republicans. My point is that we have to recognize that this is not just a conspiracy of the rich. If it were a conspiracy of the rich, it might be better because at least they’d have a plan. But the problem we have now is that we have a government that’s following no plan, that has no coherent policy that it’s advancing, which means it’s a government that accomplishes nothing about fundamentally important problems that it needs to be addressing.GAZETTE: You say the most destructive aspect of our reliance on money in politics is not how it shapes campaigns but how it influences our representatives.LESSIG: That’s a critical point because it’s a clue to why Congress, even under the jurisprudence of this Supreme Court, should have the power to address the problem. The real distortion in our political system comes through the constant influence that money has on the behavior of the representatives. The representatives know that if you vote one way or another you’re going to either [attract] or repel substantial amounts of money to their campaigns, and so they live in this constant shadow of the influence of these funders. You don’t have to be a Ph.D. in psychology to recognize that constantly sucking up to the richest people distorts the view of these representatives about what they need to accomplish.GAZETTE: Cable TV, the internet, and social media have been seen often as democratizing forces in modern society. Your book suggests otherwise in its effect on our politics.LESSIG: Yes. Twenty years ago with the birth of the internet’s influence in popular culture, most of us thought if you can just give people information the world will be a better place. It turns out it doesn’t quite work that way. If you give people information in a fragmented media environment where the incentives of the provider of that information are to polarize and to make more radical the consumers of that information, what that produces is a political culture less able to deliberate about matters of public import. So what the internet has done in the context of political speech is to make us less able as a democracy to work through the hard problems that we have as a democracy, even if it’s given us much better cable TV entertainment.GAZETTE: Is advertising at the core of this trouble?LESSIG: I really sometimes feel I’ve become such a radical on this issue. But I think it’s important to have a radical voice on this issue. Increasingly, we just find ourselves controlled or directed or invaded by this constant drumbeat of advertising. If it were just a distraction you might say, “We have to learn to live with this.” But when you begin to see that the business model of advertising is to make us stupid, to make us polarized, when you realize that their business depends on us being a less-effective democracy, we have to step back and ask, “Why do we allow this? Why do we allow an influence more corrupting than the Russians into the center of our democracy?” That’s what we’ve done by allowing such an important chunk of political speech to be directed and controlled by businesses that depend upon this dynamic.GAZETTE: But your book does not let people off the hook. Are we part of the problem?LESSIG: In one sense, I want people to realize just how bad we have become at wrestling with issues of public import. But on the other it’s obvious that we wouldn’t be very good at these issues given we live in this fragmented, polarized media environment. Now some people look at that fact and they say that’s why we need to get rid of democracy, or reduce democracy, because the people are not up to the job. But that’s not my reaction. My reaction to it is to say we need to find ways to create environments of democracy that are edifying and produce a result which “we the people” would be proud of, that give us a chance to deliberate and reflect on the questions democracy demands we answer and give answers that are sensible. And research suggests that in fact these environments exist.GAZETTE: So how can we can begin to turn things around?LESSIG: The most obvious, and conceptually the simplest thing we can do is to fix our government, the corrupting influences of unrepresentativeness inside our government. We could deal with most of the problems that I describe in my book — money in politics, gerrymandering, suppression of the vote, maybe even the Electoral College — through simple changes in the statutes that govern our democracy. With respect to us, it’s a harder problem because we’re not going to ban advertising — at least not unless we change the First Amendment — and we’re not going to get people to spend an hour every month studying issues of national import. I think the answer there is to begin to be more realistic about what’s possible for people inside of this democracy and to begin to constrain spaces where we expect “we the people” to have a deliberative role in government decisions, while building these infrastructures for something better. Having more inclusive representative bodies of ordinary people participating in decisions about public matters will begin to convince us of an alternative way to represent the people inside of our democracy.GAZETTE: Are changes to the Constitution also essential?LESSIG: Once statutory changes are made, I think they need to be codified or made permanent in the Constitution. But the essence of the constitutional reform is to guarantee that we produce a representative democracy, to give the power to Congress to create those conditions of representativeness, and to make sure that we have institutions, whether the courts or other institutions, that can force the politicians to create those conditions.GAZETTE: Do you see any encouraging signs the American public is motivated to fight for these kinds of reforms?LESSIG: Absolutely. Twenty-eighteen saw more citizen-led reform measures passed in states across the country than at any point in American history. A wide range of reforms, from gerrymandering reforms to ranked-choice voting to anticorruption measures to transparency measures to the voter disenfranchisement initiative in Florida, all of them driving for the idea of reforming our corrupted democracy. I think from the grass roots up there’s more understanding and energy than ever before in our history. The challenge is just how to translate that into a national movement that can actually have some effect. I’m hopeful. I’m not yet optimistic.GAZETTE: You have long championed the need for reforming our electoral system. What convinced you a larger strategy was needed to fix our democracy?LESSIG: As I wrote more extensively about campaign finance and then looked at the other silos of reform efforts, it became clear to me that there was a common thread linking them all. The reform community is very small and very divided: You have money in politics people; you have gerrymandering people; you have voter-suppression people; you have Electoral College people. And each of these people sometimes act as if their reform is the silver bullet. What was clear to me is that none of these silver bullets would solve the problem. But more fundamentally, all were pointing to a common problem, and if we could just agree that the common problem is unrepresentativeness or unequal political power among our citizens, then we might be able to build a big enough movement to actually achieve political equality in each of these dimensions. It’s a moral fight because at its core it is a fight about whether citizens have equal political rights within their democracy.Interview was edited for length and clarity.
Comprehensive study explains that it is universal and that some songs sound ‘right’ in different social contexts, all over the world Harvard lecturer helps provide research-backed answer on authorship of Beatles classic GAZETTE: What prompted this shift in their portrayal of women? Clearly, some of it had to be the social circles they traveled in, the changing cultural attitudes all around them, perhaps their own maturation, but not all of their songs were autobiographical.WOMACK: Many weren’t. They would sit down, and John and Paul would say, “Let’s bring her back for this song.” They didn’t call her a proto-feminist character, obviously, but they’d say, “Let’s bring her back. We’re doing ‘Drive My Car.’ Let’s make one a character here who — she’ll let you drive the car, but so what? You know, ‘Maybe, I’ll love you.’” There’s “Day Tripper,” so wonderful too in that same way. Got a “Ticket to Ride” too: She’ll go out with you but quit trying to tell her that you have to get married. Even the woman in “She’s Leaving Home,” although I don’t like the fact that to escape her parents and the constructedness of their lifestyle she has to meet with “a man from the motor trade.” But look, that’s John and Paul in 1967. That’s probably the best thing they could imagine 53 years ago! [Laughs.]GAZETTE: Which Beatle led the way? Wasn’t John a notorious cad and admitted many years later that he had been abusive toward women in the ’60s?WOMACK: “They” at this point is mostly McCartney. John Lennon lapses out pretty quickly in a bad marriage. It’s really being led by McCartney, who is suddenly reading and taking in culture in ways that he never had before, and so he would bring a lot of those kinds of ideas back. It also helped, painfully for him I guess at the time, but, living with the Ashers and [then-girlfriend] Jane [Asher] telling him that no, she doesn’t want to get married and put a ring on her finger. She’s an actress right now. She’s not going to stop touring … And he can stuff it. Paul reacts very badly to that. There are number of songs that are autobiographical where he comes off like a Class A jerk. In “We Can Work It Out” he’s not offering anything to work out! He’s saying, “Try to see it my way or we’re going to keep fighting.” “Things We Said Today”: My God, that’s an ugly, threatening song. “I’m Looking Through You.” Those were Jane songs. Even “For No One”: He doesn’t see love in her eyes anymore. She still loves him; it’s just not the love he thinks he deserves and should get. He may have been transitioning intellectually into a better space, but in his personal life, he wasn’t necessarily living it. Or John Lennon, the awful line about keeping women down and “getting better” that Lennon contributes [to “Getting Better,” which was written by McCartney].GAZETTE: Neither sound especially feminist in their real lives. Why then did they pursue this proto-feminism in their songs? There was no intense public demand; I mean, it wasn’t going to help sell more records.WOMACK: I think they were very aware that they were these kinds of contradictions, that they were talking out of both sides of their mouths. Their own actions hadn’t caught up with their intellectual abilities. But that’s true right now with the way people behave. But I do think they were conscious of the fact that they were hypocrites. I think it actually makes them more interesting that they’re both victimizers, to a certain extent, and wanting to be better. They are very fractured vessels, but they knew enough to believe it was important and to use their massive bully pulpit or bullhorn, which is still about the biggest one in history, to talk about these things.The thing that they had that’s so important is they had the ability to not have to care. They were so influential, and they had such an enormous position and privilege, obviously, that they didn’t have to care about these kinds of things. They did them anyway because they felt they were important. And they probably had enough confidence to realize that they could take risks. They did something that still few artists do, at least in popular music, and that is, every time they’d make a new record, they’d sit down with [producer] George Martin, and they would say, “Let’s not make this record sound like the last one. Let’s sound different.” So you go from “Help!” to “Rubber Soul” to “Revolver” to “Sgt. Pepper” to the “White Album” to “Let It Be” to “Abbey Road.” Each one has a different base sound that they’re working on. That in itself is pretty risky. So they took risks because they were very much like the modernists in that way. That’s what you do: You keep pushing forward.This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed for length. You say John, I say Paul. But what does stylometry say? Looking back at your favorite classic rock songs through the lens of today’s attitudes about women’s empowerment, male privilege, and even sexual violence can be cringeworthy at best. But just as they were trailblazers in music, film, fashion, and popular culture, the Beatles were ahead of their time in embracing feminism, argues Kenneth Womack, a well-known authority on the band and dean at Monmouth University, evolving from early patronizing “hey, girl” entreaties to songs filled with independent women who don’t need a man, not even a Beatle. Ideological Diversity, a Harvard Kennedy School student organization, hosts a free talk with Womack on Thursday about how the group explored issues of feminism, gender, and inclusion in ways few rock bands dared in the 1960s. The event begins at 7 p.m. at Starr Auditorium and is open to the public. Here’s a primer on the talk ahead.Q&AKenneth WomackGAZETTE: The Beatles aren’t known for their ill treatment of women and certainly don’t have the reputation that the Rolling Stones did, who were notoriously sexist even by that era’s low standards. But I don’t know whether people think of them as “proto-feminists,” as you have referred to them. What do you mean by “proto-feminist” and in what way?WOMACK: Rock ’n’ roll, or even popular music, [was] often highly gendered and sexist. It certainly was paternalistic in the ’60s and prior, in terms of songs being directed at women as objects, women as needing to be “counseled” about love, [or] it was about coming on to them, even if it was just something innocent and romantic, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” And the Beatles very consciously in 1965 began to change their tone. They created a very specific type of female character who would think for herself and did not need a man. And that is revelatory, really. We have many songs that begin to appear at that point that are highly progressive about women living their own interests and aims and pleasure, as opposed to serving some undefinable other. It’s pretty exciting stuff. And it’s a great moment when I teach the Beatles because you can see the students picking up on what they were trying to do, and how unusual it was then, and perhaps even now.,GAZETTE: Women portrayed as something other than objects of desire or as saintly figures like “Lady Madonna” — in other words, as independent actors with agency?WOMACK: Sure. “Ticket to Ride,” that’s a great example. Lady Madonna is not a saint; Lady Madonna is probably a prostitute. She has children, and they’re looking at Lady Madonna because society does not give a damn about her. The best thing she has is “listen to the music playing in her head.” The rest of it is: She has these children, which society wants her to do, but because of who she is and whatever her station is, she is a nonperson, a nonentity. And the saintliness, it’s an ironic comment on her position in life. She’s far from it. I mean, if anything, her closest cousin in the Beatles story is Eleanor Rigby, who’s good for picking up the rice in the church where the wedding has been.GAZETTE: She’s an object of pity.WOMACK: Oh, yeah. If you think about her at all, which you probably don’t.GAZETTE: In which album does this woman character first emerge? Nineteen-sixty-five’s “Rubber Soul”?WOMACK: We really start to see her appear on “Help!” Although you could make a case that she’s showing up even earlier on “Beatles for Sale,” where there’s a song called “No Reply,” which is fascinating because it is about a stalker who’s watching from across the street, sitting in some tree. He’s watching this woman, who has tried to make a decision to jettison him from her life. They’re really bringing up interesting questions about the place of women in these little romantic stories. You know, there’s a dark side to “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” [Laughs.] So there are a lot of songs, even these early songs, that are asking some pretty hard questions about the speaker. Sometimes they’re speaking ironically. Take “I’ll Follow the Sun,” which Paul wrote when he was 15 or something. That’s about a jerk who is going to be so emotionally immature that you’re not even going to know why he left or what happened to him. He’s gonna leave in the dead of night; one day you’re gonna wake up, and he’s gone. There’re several songs where they create these poses for these characters who are really terrible, even threatening.GAZETTE: Indeed. “Norwegian Wood” is a lovely song, but it’s pretty horrific at the end. He’s basically angry that after a date with this independent woman, the night ended without sex so he burns her house down the next morning while she’s at work.WOMACK: That’s right, but she’s still the winner. What he hated was the disempowerment. “[The Beatles] were so influential … that they didn’t have to care about these kinds of things. They did them anyway because they felt they were important.” Music everywhere Related The Daily Gazette Sign up for daily emails to get the latest Harvard news.
The Center for Jewish Studies at Harvard University announced this week the recipients of the 2020 Selma and Lewis Weinstein Prize in Jewish Studies.Sonia Epstein ’21 of Eliot House and Joshua Moriarty ’21 of Pforzheimer House tied for first place. Epstein’s entry was “The ‘Nitzanim’ of 1948: Recentering Morocco in Moroccan-Jewish Education.” Moriarty’s entry was “Conflicting Imperatives: ‘Religious Praxis’ and Secular Ethics in Yeshayahu Thought.”Daniel Rosenblatt ’20 of Pforzheimer House won second place for his essay, “Eden in the Garden State: Luxury and Liberation in the Jersey Homesteads Planned Community, 1936-1939.” Tamara Shamir ’21 of Leverett House also tied for second place for her essay, “Inventing Tradition: Marital Freedom and Halachic Solutions in Israel’s Religious Courts.”The Weinstein Prize, which is given to the Harvard University student(s) who submits the best undergraduate essay in Jewish studies, was established by Lewis H. Weinstein ’27, LL.B. ’30.For more information, please visit the center’s website. Read Full Story