From Business to Politics, Where are the Powerful Women?

2016 was a good start, but we’ve got a long way to go.

Recently, a photo of the House Freedom Caucus tweeted by Vice President Mike Pence went viral. The caucus, which discussed no longer requiring insurance plans to cover benefits such as maternity and newborn care, lacked a particular demographic. The photo featured 25 men discussing women’s health care.
Not a single woman was present. Twitter users were quick to point this out.
While it might have been shocking to see a group of men deciding the fate of health care for women and newborns, new data from Pew Research Center reminds us that we shouldn’t be so shocked to see women underrepresented in leadership.
While 2016 boasted of multiple historic milestones for women – Hillary Clinton became the first female nominee of a major political party, and Kellyanne Conway the first woman to successfully run a presidential campaign – women still have a long way to go before reaching proportional representation in the political and business spheres.
The number of women in the U.S. House of Representatives has nearly doubled since 1994. But the percentage of female representatives has never cracked 20 percent in the past 100 years, since Jeanette Rankin (R-MT) served as the first woman in Congress.
The Senate does just slightly better, having reached a record high of 21 women in its ranks. In the Trump administration, one in five Cabinet and Cabinet-level positions are filled by women, compared to a peak of 40.9 percent under President Clinton.
At a state level, women are moderately more represented, with nearly one-quarter of state legislature seats filled by women. But only four states – New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Rhode Island – have female governors. Washington, D.C., has a female mayor. Twenty-three states have never had a woman serve as governor.
Why so few women in top positions of power? The public perception of the question might surprise you. Pew Research asked survey respondents what is holding women back from top political offices. According to the respondents, women aren’t lacking in top positions because they don’t have the fortitude; only eight percent said that women aren’t tough enough for the jobs. It’s not due to raising children either; fewer than one in five respondents said that family responsibilities don’t leave enough time for women to pursue political careers.
Instead, nearly 40 percent of survey respondents said that women are hindered because they are held to higher standards than men. Likewise, over a third said that America is simply not ready to elect female leaders to top positions. Despite this pessimism, most don’t see things staying this way for long. In fact, three-quarters of Americans expect to see a female president in their lifetime.
This shouldn’t come as a shock when you consider the vast majority of Americans feel that women are equal to, or better, than men when it comes to key areas of political skill. Sixty-eight percent of the Pew survey respondents said that men and women are equal when it comes to working to improve U.S. quality of life, and 26 percent said women do better.
Likewise, 55 percent of respondents said men and women are equal in working out compromises, and 34 percent said women excelled in that area. Thirty-four percent said women were more honest and ethical, while 62 percent said there was no difference. In response to each of these questions, only tiny minorities said men had the advantage.
Although women have been vastly underrepresented in our nation’s politics for so long, the overall trend is ticking up. Public opinion is on the verge of becoming more accepting of women in power. It’s time to start thinking about the next generation of female leaders. The first female governor of your state might currently be drawing on your walls with a crayon while you read this article.
Historically, women in politics have few role models to serve as guides on their climb to top, but today’s girls have more than ever. The more we expose our sons and daughters to successful women in positions of power, the easier it will be for them to accept, even assume, that women are capable of being both family and career minded, caring and ambitious.
Too often, important political meetings are comprised of only men, even when discussing women’s issues. Yet despite what that photo of the House Freedom Caucus may lead us to believe, women are slowly gaining better representation in key positions of leadership.
Next time you see a young girl donning a pink dress and tiara, remind her that princesses did a lot more than host tea parties. They grew up to lead countries as well.

Maybe Neighborliness Isn't so Old-Fashioned After All

I was trapped in a 50s time warp in 2017.

Sometimes I feel nostalgic for a vanished past I’ve only read about in novels, when milk and cream were delivered straight from the farm, and the kitchen always smelled of warm soup and fresh-baked bread. But I’m a millennial mom. I juggle motherhood with writing and would rather simmer a plot than a pot.
Recently, though, I found myself in a strange predicament – for a modern mom.
It was late afternoon. Our babysitter had gone home, my three-year-old was napping, and I was frantically trying to whip up an “easy, one-egg” birthday cake for my husband and revise a magazine pitch at the same time.
I had just finished creaming the butter and sugar – and unjamming the printer – when the phone rang. I picked up on the first ring. It was Jack, our friend, calling to wish my husband a happy birthday.
“You actually answered the phone!” he said in surprise. (I usually screen my calls during the day when I’m working.)
His words startled me. Maybe I’d slipped into a time warp – answering the telephone without screening my calls and baking cakes (even in my good-old-days fantasies, my husband or mom is the one actually doing the baking).
Jack and I talked for a while about the days when we were carefree and childless. After we hung up, I went back to my cake and made a chilling discovery. My husband had scrambled the last egg for breakfast.
Unless I acted fast, my easy one-egg cake was doomed. My husband would be home soon, I wanted to surprise him with the cake. I needed an egg, and I needed it fast.
As I stood in the kitchen with a spatula in my hand, a strange thought dawned on me. I, a modern millennial, was going to have to borrow an egg.
Running next door for an egg or a cup of sugar is the kind of thing moms did in the 50s sitcoms I used watched on Nick at Nite when I was growing up. It was the kind of thing any mom might have done in those post-war years, when most women stayed home while their husbands took the family car to work.
I was trapped in a 50s time warp in 2017.
What would I do next? Put on a silk shirtwaist and high heels and start vacuuming like the mom on “Leave it to Beaver”?
Instead, I reached for my cell to call Jen, our next-door neighbor. But then I remembered. Jen was at work. In fact, most of the women in my neighborhood have jobs. And even if they don’t work outside the home, their lives are crammed with commitments and activities. They aren’t exactly standing around their kitchens, waiting for someone to borrow an egg.
I went to the window and peered out. The houses looked empty, the street deserted. Modern suburbia, I reflected, was a country forsaken, a land without people. Even I wasn’t home the way those 50d TV moms were. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d done something as housewifely and archaic as putting on an apron.
As I stood gazing out the window, wondering what I could use as an egg substitute (Silly Putty? Play Doh?) I saw Mike, our next door neighbor, open his back door to let the dog out.
We had moved into the neighborhood only recently, and I didn’t know Mike and Jen that well. But now, as I stood looking out the window, I remembered Jen mentioning that they had converted their family room into a home office for Mike. So there was someone home next door!
Jen had given me their home number when we met, so I called Mike on my cell. He answered right away. I explained my predicament and apologized for my old-fashioned request. He was very understanding and handed me the egg cheerfully over the fence that separated our yards.
“Thanks!” I said. “I’ll return it soon!”
My day, and my cake, were rescued – not by a woman in an apron and high heels, but a man with a dog and a laptop.
This sounds embarrassingly retro, but as I hurried back home with the egg, I felt as pleased, as if I had laid it myself.

Here's What Happened When We Took Our Kids' Toys Away for a Month

Watch how excited they get to dig through the recycling.

A month ago, my wife and I decided to sell our house.
To make our house marketable, we had to make sure each room had a clear and distinct purpose, according to our realtor.

That meant that our kids’ playroom went from this:

bradshaw, messy play room

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To this:

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bradshaw dining room
And it all happened overnight. One evening, my two littles went to sleep with a fully-intact, colorful, and inviting playroom. The next morning, they woke up to a bare, wooden, wrinkly-old-person dining room.
We literally took away all of their toys, save two or three kept in a small bin in the closet.
When my kids came downstairs the next morning, I was expecting them to immediately begin wailing and gnashing their teeth at the sight of their tragically transformed room (or, if not that, then at least to be somewhat downtrodden).
But no. THEY LITERALLY SAID NOTHING. I CAN’T HELP BUT WRITE THIS IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE IT IS SO UNEXPECTED AND RIDICULOUS.
This would be like living in a white-marbled mansion, and then driving home one day to an old rusted-out RV in place of your mansion and being like, “Oh. Cool.”
Again, we took away almost all of our kids’ toys, and they literally said nothing. I still can’t believe it.
But that’s not the end of the story. Not only did they not care that their toys had vanished, but their playtime this past month has transformed completely. Here’s what my kids did tonight during their play time:

  • played with a string
  • played hide-and-seek
  • chased each other
  • threw my daughter’s lovey back and forth.

That’s what they did. I’m still mind-blown. And this is what they’ve been doing now for about a month since the makeover. This whole experience has made me realize that our kids can be just as happy with a string as they can be with a room full of toys.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-toy. But I do think our kids benefit when we occasionally purge their toy collection (or take all of them away for a time). If you’re considering getting rid of some, or all, of your kids’ toys, here are some of the major benefits of doing so:

Unstructured play time is good for their brain

Social scientists say that unstructured, “free” playtime is “critical for becoming socially adept, coping with stress, and building cognitive skills such as problem solving.” According to Kenneth Ginsburg, a pediatrician who also does a lot of work with homeless children, unstructured playtime helps build resilience in children.
In addition, the boredom that sometimes goes along with unstructured play time helps children develop creativity, according to Dr. Teresa Belton, a psychologist who studied the impact of screen time on children’s imagination.

You can donate your toys to children who don’t have any

While we took away most of our kids’ toys, we didn’t take away all of them. They love playing with their wooden train set and Magna-Tiles. We wanted other, less fortunate kids to enjoy toys, too, which is why we donated some of our kids’ toys when we did our initial purge.
According to Second Chance Toys, 14 million children in the U.S. live in families with incomes below the poverty line. Donating some of your toys to these kinds of organizations can make a big difference in other kids’ lives.

They’ll get outside more

I don’t exactly know why, but my kids absolutely love going outside. We don’t have a playground. They just love running around out there.
Considering that 81 percent of two- to eight-year-old children do not get enough vitamin D, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, I’m glad we don’t have as many toys inside to distract them from wanting to be outside more.

They’ll read more

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Children who are read to during infancy and preschool years have better language skills when they start school and are more interested in reading.”

It teaches them to be thankful for what they have

If there is one thing that bothers me about American culture, it is our propensity to take things for granted. One life lesson I hope to instill in my children is the ability to be thankful – to not take even basic things, like toys, for granted.
Purging our kids’ toy collection has helped them to be thankful.

There’s less clean up at the end of the day

’Nuff said.

You can have your space back

My wife and I love having our friends over for dinner at our place. Now that we actually have our dining room back, we don’t have to warn our guests to look out for chewed up Cheerios, loose Legos, and other feet-destroying toys.

You’ll spend less money (on toys)

Give it a try. Go find a closet with some space in it and stuff your kids’ toys in there for a day, a week, or a month. You’ll be amazed how they fill the open space with their imaginations.

The Myth of the Poisonous Poinsettia

Despite the myth being debunked, poinsettias have continued to be incorrectly identified as poisons.

‘Twas the night before Christmas

and all through the house

hidden dangers were lurking

plants to hide and trees to douse

A few weeks ago, my parents took my two-year-old with them to pick out a Christmas tree. When they returned, my son struggled into their kitchen, beaming behind the beautiful white poinsettia he had picked out for me.

“Don’t let him eat it,” my dad joked. This was a child who had refused most food that wasn’t apples or Christmas cookies for the duration of our visit, so there was a vanishingly small likelihood he would consider eating the plant. But my dad issued that warning anyway, as he and my mom have done for as long as I could remember, because poinsettias are poisonous.

Except that they’re not. Poinsettias were cleared of all charges in the 1970s, when researchers at Ohio State found them to be non-toxic. Snopes and other myth-busting websites have exonerated the poinsettia. Yet poinsettias have continued to be incorrectly identified as poisons.

What accounts for the persistence of this holiday myth? And what can the example of the poinsettia teach us about fear-based parenting?

According to Ecke Ranch, the company responsible for cultivating poinsettias into the flowers we recognize today, Flores de Noche Buena (Flowers of the Holy Night) were so named because they bloom during the holiday season. They feature in a Christmas miracle story about a poor girl whose paltry offering of weeds bloomed into brilliant red flowers when she placed them by her chapel’s nativity scene.

The plant most Americans know it is named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, a former medical student and amateur botanist who, as the United States’ first ambassador to Mexico, found the plant and brought it home to his South Carolina greenhouse in the late 1820s.

The plant, which Ecke Ranch suggests was used as a fever treatment by the Aztecs, did not become “poisonous” until 100 years after its introduction to the U.S. The poison poinsettia myth has its roots in botanist Joseph Francis Rock’s assertion that a two-year-old child died from sucking on the plant’s leaves.

It’s not clear that the child existed, or if the child did exist, if he died an early death, or if the child did die at a young age, if it was a poinsettia that did him in. But the myth spread like, well, poinsettia, which had taken root across the U.S. and into Hawaii, where the myth originated. By 1944, that myth was solidified in Harry L. Arnold’s “Poisonous Plants of Hawaii:

The milky juice and the leaves are poisonous. The two-year-old child of an Army officer at Fort Shafter died from eating a poinsettia leaf in 1919. The poisonous substance is neither an alkaloid nor a glucoside, and is probably a resin. It causes intense emesis and catharsis, and delirium before death. The writer has been unable to find any definitive statement of its pharmacological action or its antidote.

The myth then became an invasive species, growing into medical publications and then popular magazines throughout the U.S. In the 1970s, the Society of American Florists, wishing to restore the poinsettia’s good name while improving their business, commissioned a study from researchers at Ohio State, which found that poinsettias were not poisonous.

The child who may or may not have existed and who may or may not have died is long gone from memory, but the effects of his story linger nearly 100 years later – a testament to the long-reaching effects fear can have on our collective parenting decisions. Belief in poisonous poinsettias has been as persistent as belief in Santa Claus, in spite of mounting contrary evidence.

But in the case of the flowers, why do we keep believing long after we should? One theory is the name, which sounds close to “poison” and keeps danger front-of-mind. The Museum of Hoaxes identifies this theory, as well as “guilt by association.” Poinsettias, which look similar to holly and mistletoe, got unfairly grouped with these actual poisonous plants.

That belief may be starting to change. Over the past few holiday seasons, the Society of American Florists has encouraged its members to download and distribute a flyer about poinsettias. Perhaps their ongoing campaign is working. In 1996, researchers studying calls to Poison Control Centers reaffirmed that poinsettia exposures did not result in toxicity. In 2004, Poison Control Centers received 2206 calls about poinsettia exposure, which made the poinsettia responsible for 3 percent of the phone calls for plant exposures.

Plant-exposure calls to Poison Control have fallen over the past decade, as have calls about poinsettias, which have dropped every year in both number and percentage from 2004 to 2014. In 2014, poinsettia exposures accounted for only 343 calls, representing .77 percent of the phone calls for plant exposures.

The decrease in calls to poison control do not tell us that children are eating poinsettia any less often, or that people aren’t buying poinsettias as often, although either could be true. It may suggest that the publicity campaigns like this one sponsored by the Society of American Florists are working to restore the poinsettia’s good name.

The cautionary tale of the tree-turned-torch

Poinsettias are not going to kill us. But what about the other holiday plant at the start of our story? Christmas trees have been much-maligned for face and eye injuries as well as falls. But more than any of these injuries, Christmas trees are most feared for the fire hazards they pose.

We’re warned to spend the holiday season obsessively watering our trees, quickly disposing of dry needles, and unplugging strings of lights when not in use. Artificial trees invite different warnings about frayed wires and broken bulbs.

Christmas trees have done more to earn their reputation than poinsettias. According to the National Fire Protection Association’s November 2016 report on “Home Structure Fires Involving Christmas Trees,” Christmas tree fires are responsible for an average of 210 house fires each year, which lead to an average of six deaths and 16 injuries, in addition to 16 million dollars of property damage.

We should be emboldened by these figures: 210 is a small number of trees, and even that average is on the decline. In 1980, there were 850 fires. In 2014 – the last year cited within the NFPA’s November 2016 report – there were 170 fires. While numbers like 16 million dollars in property damage sound grim, focusing on another big number can help us put this data into perspective.

The National Fire Protection Association reported average is 210 Christmas tree fires per year. It’s reasonable to assume that each of those fires was started by a single Christmas tree. Using the National Christmas Tree Association‘s data on Christmas tree sales, we can determine that from 2010 to 2014 (the same period reported on in the NFPA’s data), there were an average of 28.3 million real trees and 11.4 million artificial trees sold, for a total average of 39.7 million trees.

We cannot know if those trees are all sold to homeowners instead of businesses, or how many trees are not sold but cut down, but taking a conservative estimate and assuming that just half of that number – 20 million – go to homes, then the average number of Christmas tree fires per year represents one fire for every 100,000 trees. Again, that’s a reasonably conservative estimate.

It’s further reassuring to examine what sorts of fires are included within the NFPA report. Twenty-three percent of the fires included in the 2010-2014 study were intentional; that is, the trees had been set on fire on purpose. It’s likely that most of the trees involved in those fires were being burned in home fireplaces as a means of disposal, when the fires then got out of control.

What’s more troubling about Christmas tree fires is that they’re more deadly than other kinds of home fires. An ignited Christmas tree can destroy a living room in one minute, which helps to explain why Christmas tree-involved house fires are significantly more deadly than other types of house fires.

When a Christmas tree is the first item ignited, house fires carry a one in 34 chance of death. For all house fires, that risk is much lower, one in 142. So although the likelihood of a Christmas tree fire is astonishingly rare, such fires are more dangerous either because of or in spite of all of the PSAs we view each season.

Returning to the National Fire Protection Association’s report, at least some of the resulting deaths may have been avoided by fire prevention education. In some cases, clearly flammable materials like kerosene were stored near the tree, creating an avoidable fire hazard. In other cases, homeowners reentered the home for belongings. Examples such as these demonstrate the need for fire safety education at all times of the year, not just the holiday season.

For children, the holiday season’s invitation to magical thinking is a source of wonder and excitement. For parents, a different kind of magical thinking leads to fears of things that will likely never come to pass. The truth is that we should be worried less about our kids’ safety and more on our own.

Fall-related injuries and back strain are the number one and number three holiday-related injuries, and happen overwhelmingly in adult populations. But we can’t very well get rid of all the ladders and stools. And fearing all the chairs in our homes would drive us mad. So we build elaborate narratives around the more novel “dangers” of the holiday season.

This year, display your poinsettias without fear. Un-baby-gate your tree. But maybe lay off the eggnog before hanging any lights.