In this week’s Wednesday 5: Leslie Morgan Steiner reminds us that domestic violence can happen to anyone; student-loan debt is growing fastest among adults 60 and older; what happens when you replace food aid with cash payments?; righting a 22-year-old wrong done to architect Denise Scott Brown; and Indian women plant trees each time a girl is born in their village.



When Love Becomes Violent

Domestic violence never stays in the headlines for too long. It’s one of those things that our society still doesn’t want to talk about, thus enforcing the culture of silence surrounding violence against women. Leslie Morgan Steiner, a survivor of domestic abuse and author of Crazy Love, is working to counter that silence. Her story:

I don’t look like a typical domestic violence survivor. I have a B.A. in English from Harvard College, an MBA in marketing from Wharton Business School. I’ve spent most of my career working for Fortune 500 companies including Johnson & Johnson, Leo Burnett, and The Washington Post. . . . I didn’t know [my husband] was abusing me. Even though he held those loaded guns to my head, pushed me down stairs, threatened to kill our dog, pulled the key out of the car ignition as I drove down the highway, poured coffee grinds on my head as I dressed for a job interview, I never once thought of myself as a battered wife.

And that’s precisely Steiner’s point: domestic violence can happen to everyone; psychological traps disguised as love can blind victims to the victimhood; and we have to begin to challenge the notions of what “battered” and “abused” means. Watch her tell her story on TED Talks below.

RELATED: “The Lure of the Intermittent Abuser,” by Dr. Cecilia Ford, Women’s Voices for Change



Student-loan Debt Growing Fastest Among Adults Ages 60 and Older

“Student-loan debt is growing fastest among adults ages 60 and older, with more than two million people in that age group now owing an average of $19,000,” writes Stacey Patton for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Thinking they could increase their employability and skills by returning to graduate schools for second or sometimes third degrees, Patton tells us, many older adults are now struggling to pay those loans back. Sixty-three-year-old Joan Roberts, for example, returned to a Ph.D. program at Columbia University where she spent eight years. She is now saddled with $190,000 in federal and private loans. Others returned to school with a zeal to reinvent their lives, change their careers, or to keep up with evolving trends and technology in their fields. But experts are warning older students to be very careful about their choice to return to school. “Older people who are considering enrolling in graduate school should try to avoid taking on debt because they will have less time to repay it, says Mark Kantrowitz, a financial-aid expert who is the publisher of Fastweb. “They should not borrow more than they can afford to repay in 10 years or by the time they retire, whichever comes first.”

Read more on “I Fully Expect to Die with This Debt” at The Chronicle for Higher Education.



In India, What Happens When You Replace Food Aid with Cash Payments?

This is the experiment officials in India are undertaking: Eliminate ration cards, which allow people to get subsidized food items, and instead replace them with cash payments, which let people living below the poverty line buy food directly. According to an article by Sarika Bansal in Fast Company:

Economists say cash transfers eliminate the “paternalism” inherent in food subsidy programs. Instead of the state encouraging people to purchase grains, people can spend cash however they see fit.

The cash system also benefits women and children: “Cash transfer programs have been linked with better childhood nutrition, improved living standards, and reduced child labor.” So what are the drawbacks? “Currently, only 40% of Indians have bank accounts. . . . And accessing accounts can be challenging for people in distant villages.”

Read more about this social experiment in Fast Company.



What About My Wife?

denise scott brown1When Philadelphia architect Robert Venturi received a call in 1991 telling him he’d won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the profession’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize, his first response was, “What about my wife?” That wife was Denise Scott Brown, who had been “Venturi’s intellectual collaborator since the early nineteen-sixties, and a partner in [his] firm since 1969,” writes Gareth Cook for The New Yorker. The Pritzker Prize said no, they wouldn’t honor Denise as well. Fast-forward 22 years, and students at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design have  started a petition urging the Pritzker Prize to “retroactively acknowledge” Densie Scott Brown for the Prize. But their goal is a larger one. Cook tells us:

“The petition has drawn the Pritzker into a discussion of the profession’s well-earned reputation for sexism, but also raised questions about the way the field—and particularly the Pritzker—traffics in a dated notion of the architect as romantic hero, inspired in isolation with plans for a shining monument.”

We applaud these next-generation fighters for gender equality for taking on this mission to right a wrong and send a strong message about the place of women in the field.

Read more of “What About Denise?” at The New Yorker.



A Tree Grows for Girls

Women-with-saplings-West-Bengal-India.jpg.492x0_q85_crop-smartImage via

For this week’s dose of inspiration: Indian women in the village of Piplantri are planting trees each time a girl is born. It’s gender-equality-meets-environmental-activism.

While in some parts of India, many expectant parents still say they’d prefer bearing sons, members of the Piplantri village, in the western state of Rajasthan, are breaking this trend by celebrating the birth of each baby girl in way that benefits everyone. For every female child that’s born, the community gathers to plant 111 fruit trees in her honor in the village common.


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  • Tobysgirl April 17, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    What does the typical domestic violence survivor look like? It seems Ms Steiner thinks they do not have college degrees or appear middle-class. While it is not true that anyone or everyone may be the victim of domestic violence, it is true that domestic violence knows no bounds when it comes to economic or educational status.