When the federal government set out to inoculate the entire country against coronavirus, it turned to Helene Gayle, a legend in the infectious disease world who’s advised everyone from presidents to rock stars — Bono once called her “my queen” for her advice on how his nonprofit should address poverty and disease.
The National Academy of Sciences tapped Gayle July to help lead the study the federal government is using to guide states on how to distribute the vaccines. We talked by phone the other day about her long career in public health and her recent efforts to build trust in the Covid-19 vaccination.
“Public health efforts need a national framework and national guidelines,” Gayle told me. “We wanted to build on a long history of public health campaigns and public health vaccinations and also balance the issue of communities most hard-hit by coronavirus and people at greatest risk from a health and economic standpoint.”
An epidemiologist with an expertise in public health and pediatrics, Gayle worked in the trenches in the early fight against HIV/AIDS during her 20 years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She also led the push for a presidential apology to the survivors (and families of survivors) of the Tuskegee experiment, a 40-year government-led study that left Black men untreated for syphilis even after a treatment was available. Gayle was in the room with President Bill Clinton when he publicly acknowledged the treatment was racist and said, “I am sorry.”
Families of the victims “felt jubilation,” she recalled. “It showed the power of healing that can take place when someone says something as simple as ‘I’m sorry. I was wrong.’”
Even though the ethics of clinical trials have vastly improved since Tuskegee, the memory of the study looms today for many Black Americans who are reluctant to get inoculated against Covid-19 in another government-led effort. A study in the fall found that only 14 percent of Black respondents said they believed the vaccine would be safe. Gayle says “extensive community engagement,” including from faith groups, community centers, and schools and universities, is key to getting people on board with vaccination.
Over the long term, Gayle argues distrust can be whittled away by diversifying the health care field. There are some positive signs of change, she says, pointing to Kizzmekia Corbett, the National Institutes of Health’s lead scientist for coronavirus vaccine research. But, Gayle says, “There still aren’t enough people of color doing the kind of research to ask the questions that inspire confidence so people will be willing to be part of trials.”
After her career at the CDC, Gayle focused on global health issues, including HIV/AIDS for the Gates Foundation. She led the international humanitarian nonprofit CARE. And she currently leads the Chicago Community Trust, which is working to close the racial and ethnic wealth gap in the Chicago region. The trust supports a range of efforts to help people get jobs, increase home ownership, and develop commercial real estate, loans and support for small businesses.
Through all the public-health efforts she’s worked on, though, Gayle sees a common thread.
“When it comes to care-taking, it’s done by women,” she says. “When you have a pandemic impacting multiple generations, women are the caretakers,” she continued, all the while “putting their professional and career efforts on a back burner.”
Happy Friday, Women Rulers. I’m Shia Kapos, author of the Illinois Playbook and a Women Rule reader from Day 1. I’ll be guest-hosting today and in the coming weeks, so please keep in touch with comments and ideas. I’m at [email protected]. Elizabeth will be out on vacation for the next few weeks. Thanks to Maya Parthasarathy, who finds great reads for the newsletter each week. Subscribe here.
ON THE HILL — “Inside Pelosi’s push to impeach Trump: This time it’s personal,” via POLITICO … “AOC: GOP lawmakers fearful of threats if they impeach Trump are privileged,” via POLITICO …
— “Liz Cheney faces blowback after embracing impeachment,” by Melanie Zanona: “Conservative hard-liners are moving against House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney after she pledged to impeach President Donald Trump — the first serious signs of blowback since she made her position public.
“Less than 24 hours after Cheney said she would vote to remove Trump from office for his role in the deadly Capitol riots, some of the president’s closest allies are now taking steps to oust the No. 3 Republican from leadership. …
“Cheney, however, made clear she has no intentions of leaving voluntarily.
‘I’m not going anywhere. This is a vote of conscience,’ she told POLITICO in the Capitol. ‘It’s one where there are different views in our conference. But our nation is facing an unprecedented, since the Civil War, constitutional crisis.’” POLITICO
— “McCarthy rejects kicking Cheney from GOP leadership” via POLITICO
TRANSITION WATCH — “Biden picks Samantha Power to lead USAID,” via POLITICO … “Harris teases immigration agenda: Green cards for DACA and TPS recipients, shorter waits for citizenship,” via POLITICO … “Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez to perform at Biden’s inauguration,” via POLITICO
SHOCKER — “The US economy lost 140,000 jobs in December. All of them were held by women,” by Annalyn Kurtz: “A year ago, a rare thing happened to American women. For three months, they held more jobs than men in the US economy — something that had only occurred one other time in history, during a short period in 2009 and early 2010. …
“The pandemic quickly changed that story. And now, it just got worse. According to new data released Friday, employers cut 140,000 jobs in December, signaling that the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is backtracking. Digging deeper into the data also reveals a shocking gender gap: Women accounted for all the job losses, losing 156,000 jobs, while men gained 16,000.
“Meanwhile, a separate survey of households, which includes self-employed workers, showed an even wider gender disparity. It also highlighted another painful reality: Blacks and Latinas lost jobs in December, while White women made significant gains.
“These are net numbers, which can mask some of the underlying churn in the labor market. Of course many men lost their jobs in December, too — but when taken together as a group, they came out ahead, whereas women fell behind.” CNN
COVER CONTROVERSY — “Why a Vogue Cover Created an Uproar Over Kamala Harris” by Vanessa Friedman: “Though it might seem, in light of all that is going on currently in Washington, D.C., the least of the matter, on Sunday a leaked shot of Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris’s Vogue cover set off an unexpected firestorm. February’s issue features Ms. Harris in a dark jacket by Donald Deal, skinny pants, Converse and her trademark pearls. She stands against a leaf green backdrop bisected by a spill of pink curtain, colors meant to evoke her Howard University sorority, caught in what seems like mid-laugh, hands clasped together at her waist.
“The image was shot by Tyler Mitchell, who, in 2018, became the first Black photographer
to shoot a Vogue cover (his subject was Beyoncé) and is known for his unstudied aesthetic. Though Gabriella Karefa-Johnson receives credit as the sittings editor, a.k.a. the fashion editor in charge, Ms. Harris chose and wore her own clothes. The selected photo is determinedly unfancy. Kind of messy. The lighting is unflattering. The effect is pretty un-Vogue. ‘Disrespectful’ was the word used most often on social media.
“As the maelstrom of public hot takes began to swirl, Vogue released another, more formal portrait of Ms. Harris in a powder blue Michael Kors Collection suit with an American flag pin on her lapel, her arms crossed in a sort of executive power pose against a gold curtain — the ‘digital cover.’” NYT
ABOUT LAST WEEK — “‘She couldn’t get out of bed’: Why watching Capitol riot was ‘triggering’ for some women,” by Alia E. Dastagir: “When an overwhelmingly white, male mob rampaged the Capitol last week armed with guns and zip ties, attacking police with metal pipes and erecting a gallows, the nation reeled in horror. But amid the rage and shouting, the offensive T-shirts and bare-chested bravado, many women also saw something familiar. It wasn’t just masculinity, or entitlement, or supremacy. It was all of it that made the Capitol attack possible and often allows us to overlook the quieter attacks on our everyday lives, said Kristen Barber, a sociology professor at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and editor of the journal Men and Masculinities.
“‘Watching these images are triggering for people who experience the everyday violence of white male supremacy, whether that’s Black men who are patrolled by white police officers on the street or women who feel threatened by white men in their spaces on a daily basis,’ Barber said. ‘It’s a reminder of the everyday stresses that come with living in a world that’s shaped by white masculinity … and that your wellness comes second to their expressions of dominance, which they see as their right.’” USA Today
— “She was arrested by Capitol Police for protesting Kavanaugh. The response to pro-Trump rioters was ‘an outrage,’” by Danielle Campoamor: “Mallory McMaster, a 34-year-old from Ohio, was one of hundreds of people arrested while protesting the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. Ahead of Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation, a former classmate, Christine Blasey Ford, came forward to allege that he had sexually assaulted her more than three decades before, roiling what was supposed to be a seamless confirmation process.
“On Sept. 27, 2018 — the day both Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford publicly testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee — McMaster says she was standing in solidarity with other sexual assault survivors when she was arrested and detained for more than six hours by Capitol Police, a stark contrast to how some police treated the male-dominated Capitol mob, she says. …
“When McMaster was arrested, she was sitting in the middle of an already closed-off road, chanting ‘Believe women’ and singing hymns with about 20 fellow political activists, she says. McMaster says the group was ‘certainly peaceful — there were women of all ages and ability levels there, so we were just helping one another.’” The Lily
AROUND THE WORLD — “These activists helped end the U.K.’s ‘tampon tax.’ Here’s what they’re fighting for next,” by Julianne McShane: “When Laura Coryton started her first petition in 2014 — to abolish the United Kingdom’s ‘tampon tax’ on menstrual products — she was a 21-year-old politics student at Goldsmiths, University of London. She thought the whole process would be over soon after it began. ‘I never thought I’d spend the next six-and-a-half years talking about tampons,’ she said. ‘I thought maybe my friends would sign it, and it would give me some kind of insight into what it’s like to try and make change.’
“But by garnering more than 318,000 signatures, the petition ultimately helped ax the 5 percent value-added tax, which classified tampons and pads as nonessential. On Jan. 1, the tax was officially eliminated when the United Kingdom’s economic split from the European Union was finalized. The U.K.’s Treasury has estimated that the abolition of the tax will save a menstruating person almost 40 British pounds — about $54 — over the course of their lifetime, according to the BBC. …
“In the United Kingdom and beyond, axing the tampon tax is only the tip of the iceberg in the fight to reduce period poverty — a catchall term for inadequate access to menstrual hygiene products and resources — which affects menstruating people around the world. Other barriers to accessible and sustainable period products remain, and the pandemic has only exacerbated them, according to U.K. activists. …
“Gabby Edlin has been working to change this reality as the founder and chief executive of Bloody Good Period, a charity she started in 2016 that provides free menstrual products to refugees and asylum seekers in the United Kingdom.” The Lily
— “Meet some of the millions of women who migrated recently, risking everything,” via National Geographic … “Seoul’s Advice to Pregnant Women: Cook, Clean and Stay Attractive,” via NYT … “All-women Indian pilot crew make history by completing country’s longest commercial flight,” via CNN
— “Pope Francis Says Women Can Read at Mass as Debate on Women Clergy Continues,” via WSJ
OP-DOC — “Why Is a Woman’s Body Always in Question?” by Camila Kater: “From youth to old age, a woman’s body is viewed as something to regulate, comment on and critique — what’s personal becomes a matter of public opinion. In the short documentary above, five women share experiences from different stages of life. What they have in common is the sensation of being treated less like a person than like a body — like flesh.” NYT
PERSPECTIVE — “Female Athletes Need to See Puberty as a Power, Not a Weakness,” by Alexi Pappas: “At the beginning of my junior year, they gave me an ultimatum: I would need to quit soccer so I could concentrate on track. My coach felt it was best to force high-school athletes to specialize. But this only applied to girls; the boys at my school were allowed to play multiple sports. That was the first moment that I realized the distance-running world is not structured to embrace female athletes. I did not feel ready to specialize in anything, especially a sport I was good at but had not yet fallen in love with. I was a late bloomer, and I was gradually growing into the sport just as I was gradually growing into myself. So I left the track team.
“The twist is that my forced retirement from high-school running became an advantage in my later growth as an NCAA and then professional athlete. I inadvertently stopped training just long enough for my body to go through puberty without the strain of overtraini
ng. I grew C-cup boobs; I gained some weight. I rode the puberty wave and then, when the time was right, I gradually increased my training. As a result I was far more physically resilient, powerful, and capable than the female athletes who feel pressured to maintain a Peter Pan prepubescent body. Some coaches assume that if a girl lets her body mature naturally, she will never again be as capable as she was before puberty. But female distance runners usually peak in their late 20s and early 30s. Female athletic programs need to see puberty as a power, not a weakness. Our bodies take time to develop — a word female athletes need to embrace.” The Atlantic
— “We Need to Change the Terms of the Debate on Trans Kids,” via The New Yorker
BOOK CLUB — “With ‘I Hate Men,’ a French Feminist Touches a Nerve,” by Laura Cappelle: “If it hadn’t been for a man, Pauline Harmange’s literary debut, ‘I Hate Men,’ might have gone unnoticed. The feminist essay, which makes a case for shunning men as a legitimate defense mechanism against widespread misogyny, was initially published in French by the nonprofit press Monstrograph. It only printed 400 copies. On the day it was released last August, however, an employee of France’s ministry for gender equality, Ralph Zurmély, emailed Monstrograph from his government account.
“The book was obviously, he wrote, ‘an ode to misandry.’ Zurmély, who hadn’t read the book, likened it to ‘sex-based incitement to hatred,’ and concluded: ‘I ask that you immediately withdraw this book from your catalog, subject to legal prosecution.’
“The threat backfired. No sooner was it made public than ‘I Hate Men’ became a cause célèbre in the French news media — and brought attention to misandry, the dislike or mistrust of men, as a social phenomenon. Since Monstrograph couldn’t keep up with demand, a major French publisher, Seuil, won a bidding war to reprint the book, which has sold 20,000 copies since. The translation rights for 17 languages have been sold. In the United States, HarperCollins will release ‘I Hate Men,’ translated by Natasha Lehrer, on Jan. 19.” NYT
VIDEO — The Double Standard In Protesting
WISDOM OF THE WEEK — Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer at AARP and 2020 Women in Government Relations Excellence in Advocacy Lifetime Achievement honoree: “Strong leadership comes in many forms, but its foundation lies in relationships. Throughout my career I’ve tried to establish and maintain strong relationships based on a simple acronym shared with me many years ago: TRUTH – Trust (your word matters … and so does integrity, confidence and concern), Recognition (thank people for their time, work and good counsel; show appreciation; share credit), Understanding & Empathy (understand the needs of others … I never forget the average income of a senior in America), Transparency (openly share the good and the bad), and Humor (enjoy life and don’t take yourself too seriously).” Connect with Nancy here.