People you should know: Judith Levine

Dr. Judith Levine, assistant professor in the sociology department, has dedicated much of her research and teaching to gender equality and gender implications in various facets of society, specifically family and the labor market. Levine

Courtesy Judith Levine

Dr. Judith Levine, assistant professor in the sociology department, has dedicated much of her research and teaching to gender equality and gender implications in various facets of society, specifically family and the labor market.

Levine is currently on leave from the university, and in her time away is working on a book detailing the lives of low-income mothers during the current administration’s efforts to reform welfare. In the past, Levine has also published books on the lives of children born to single mothers, and gender stratification in the workforce.

In honor of Women’s History Month, The Temple News spoke with Levine to discuss her current research, gender equality and the importance of honoring women’s achievements.

The Temple News: What does your current research entail?

Judith Levine: I am finishing a book on low-income mothers’ lives in the era of welfare reform. In it, I argue that our policy approach to women in poverty often involves trying to “fix” them as individuals rather than attending to the more systematic forces that shape the contexts in which low-income women find themselves.

I am also conducting a study comparing women’s experiences at work in different work settings. That is a fun study because I use a dataset that includes “beeper” data. For a week, women wore beeper watches that went off eight times a day. When the beeper beeped, the women recorded where they were, what they were doing and how they were feeling.

TTN: According to your curriculum vitae, a lot of your research and teaching surrounds gender stratification in the workforce, in families and in regards to the glass ceiling. When and how did this interest and specialization in gender stratification develop?

JL: I have had a long-standing interest in inequality in general. I think ever since I was very young, I found it puzzling that some people with great skill and talent do not get to share in the rewards that others enjoy. That curiosity led me to want to study the structural barriers women – and other groups – face in achieving equality.

TTN: Do you believe gender equality exists today?

JL: Many societies have made tremendous progress in working toward gender equality, but we are far from having achieved it. In the U.S., for example, more women between the ages of 25 and 34 have earned college degrees than men in the same age group and women are more likely to have a graduate degree. Yet, women who work full-time and full-year still only make 77 percent of what full-time, full-year male workers make. Women still do the majority of the work of taking care of children and homes which has repercussions for their labor market success. While women’s labor force participation steadily rose for several decades, it now appears to have tapered off. Most single-parent households are headed by women and single mothers and their children have the highest poverty rate of any family form.

We see signs of tremendous inequality in other realms as well. In some parts of the world, raping women is a tool of political oppression and young girls in arranged marriages face disfiguring violence if they attempt to leave.

TTN: Why is it so important to honor women during Women’s History Month?

JL: Women’s achievements have often been invisible since they were not historically recognized or celebrated. Women’s History Month offers an opportunity to rectify the record – to make clear that women’s intelligence, determination, creativity, and sacrifice have brought benefits to all of us. Gender equality will be hard to achieve unless children learn early on to think of both women and men as leaders in a variety of fields.

TTN: Critics of Women’s History Month will say that to isolate honoring women to one month is actually demeaning, and should instead be a part of our national conscience year-round. How would you respond to this argument?

JL: There is always a trade-off between same treatment and different treatment. In an ideal world, we would integrate women’s achievements into our national conscience year-round. But we have not yet succeeded in doing that. Women’s History Month ensures that women’s achievements are not lost to history.

TTN: Generally speaking, a negative stigma in society surrounds feminists and women who work toward advancing fellow women. What do you think can be done to abolish this stigma?

JL: In her book “Why We Lost the ERA,” political scientist Jane Mansbridge argues that the majority of the population actually agreed with the Equal Rights Amendment’s very simple statement that men and women should have equal rights but that the legislation failed to pass because it got associated with feminism, which turned people off. There is a cultural meaning to the word “feminism” that is distinct from the feminist value of equality with which many people actually agree. That meaning is hard to pin down, but has something to do with what is seen as an unpleasant dogmatism. The stereotyping of feminists is also part of a backlash against the challenges to the status quo brought by the women’s movement.

The best way I know to combat the stigma is to point out the kinds of inequality that existed before the 1970s. It is easy to take for granted the basic rights that women enjoy today, which were hard won for them by feminists of that earlier generation.

Alexis Sachdev can be reached at

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