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Diane Manuel, News Service (650) 725-1945; e-mail:

Research institute launches new studies of women's lives

With an academic nod to singer Tina Turner, whose spirited independence is the stuff of legend on screen and off, scholars at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender are asking, "What's Sex Got to Do with It?"

That's the subtitle of a symposium the institute will host on Sept. 18, when an interdisciplinary panel of experts on gender research will look at four critical issues: "Family, Work, Money and Justice." The symposium, which will take place from 1 to 2:30 p.m. in Oak West Room of Tresidder Union, will be followed by the institute's Leah Kaplan Annual Lecture, featuring author Maxine Hong Kingston.

During the symposium, Barbara Babcock, the Judge John Crown Professor of Law, will moderate a discussion by political scientist Susan Okin, the Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society; Deborah Rhode, the Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law; and Myra Strober, professor of education. The four researchers will look at the current status of the women's movement, feminist economics, occupational segregation and women entering the labor market, among other issues. Strober also will sign copies of the new book she has co-authored with Agnes Milling Kaneko Chan, The Road Winds Uphill All the Way: Gender, Work and Family in the United States and Japan, at a reception from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17, in the Serra House conference room.

Hong Kingston will talk about her latest work, The Fifth Book of Peace, which she plans to finish in October, to mark her 59th birthday. She has told institute scholar Marilyn Yalom that in her new work she is addressing "the human condition of war."

"All of my books have anti-war politics, especially Tripmaster Monkey, where the anti-Vietnam War politics are simply more up front," Hong Kingston said. "By the time of The Fifth Book of Peace, I have become more and more of a pacifist. I want to make a positive assertion of what peace is. I am trying to find a way to make a nonviolent story dramatic."

The symposium and Hong Kingston's talk are free and open to the public.

In addition to continuing its anniversary celebration, the institute, the oldest university-based center for research on women's issues, also is planning to launch new research agendas in 2000.

During the past 25 years, the institute's Jing Lyman Lecture Series has attracted faculty, students and staff to its noontime lectures, and dozens of renowned academics and independent scholars have completed significant projects in offices at Serra House. Marilyn Yalom wrote A History of the Breast there, English Professor Diane Middlebrook finished Anne Sexton: A Biography and journalist Susan Faludi penned Backlash.

In January, the institute will inaugurate its new research agenda with "Difficult Dialogues," a year-long project that will look at critical issues of aging in the 21st century. Stanford's Research Institute of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity is a co-sponsor of the program.

The dialogues will be "difficult," says Laura Carstensen, professor of psychology and director of the institute, because many people are uneasy about discussing aging, associating it with dementia and physical frailty. Scholars and the public also hold widely disparate views about the changes that need to be made as a result of the growing older population in the Social Security system, for example and often cannot agree about how to make those changes.

Instead, Carstensen argues for "an even-handed conception of old age," noting that "although the older population does indeed include severely demented people, it also comprises the wisest members of society."

In the proposal that launched the project, Carstensen writes that "to date, most of the thinking [on these issues] has been to consider the ways in which we can cope with an aging 'crisis.' Only minimal consideration has been given to the ways in which older people might contribute productively to society and ways in which society might benefit from having relatively more older citizens than ever before in history."

In fact, she asserts, "older people today are, in some sense, pioneers of a new life stage."

Past president of the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology and past chair of the behavioral sciences section of the Gerontological Society of America, the 45-year-old Carstensen focuses on gender and emotion in her research, and she is a leading scholar in the field of life-span developmental psychology. She says she has wanted to initiate a national dialogue on aging ever since she was named director of the institute in 1997.

"When the institute was founded 25 years ago, researchers addressed immediately obvious issues related to women, such as women in the workplace and mothering," Carstensen said in a recent interview. "Now we need to make clear that aging is gendered because most older people are women, and we need to emphasize that gender is relevant to a lot of national issues, including Social Security and poverty."

Carstensen notes that in less than a century, 30 years have been added to humanity's life cycle. As a result, the number of older members of society is growing faster than ever before in human history, and by 2030 more than one-fifth of the world population will be over 65.

Because women on average live seven years longer than men, Carstensen says the world of the very old is primarily a world of women.

"But even though poverty is mostly about women and children, that is rarely, if ever, mentioned when we hear debates about Social Security."

At the same time, Carstensen argues that older people offer "tremendous resources" that too often are overlooked by social scientists who tend to focus on issues related to depletion of Medicare funds or even bankruptcy of the federal government.

Carstensen says the "Difficult Dialogues" discussions will be "a good social psychology experiment for getting experts to talk to one another across various fields and come to a deeper understanding of the issues that are involved."

Stanford participants in the dialogues, in addition to Carstensen, include James Fries, professor of medicine; Mary Goldstein, assistant professor of internal medicine; Hazel Markus, the Davis-Brack Professor in the Behavioral Sciences; and Gwendolynne Yeo, founding director of the Stanford Geriatric Education Center.

At the conclusion of the year-long study, a white paper representing the consensus views of the group will be produced and distributed by the National Academy on an Aging Society to local, state and federal representatives with the aim of influencing public policies.

Experts who are invited to address the "Difficult Dialogues" discussions will give public lectures on campus during 2000, and the panel's ultimate findings may influence course offerings the following year. An hour-long televised broadcast also will be produced for the general public.


By Diane Manuel

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