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2020 Women’s Research on Women Symposium: Celebrating our Scholars Virtually

Each year, we set aside the month of March to celebrate and recognize women’s research on women. Since 2013, the Women’s Research on Women Symposium, sponsored by the College of Education and Human Development’s Education Leadership Research Center, Office of Organizational Development and Diversity Initiatives, Women’s Faculty Network, and Women’s and Gender Studies, is an annual event at Texas A&M University, where our community comes together and recognizes our very own female faculty conducting research on girls, women, and gender.

The 2020 Women’s Research on Women Symposium was canceled due to protective measures against the spread of COVID-19. While we are disappointed to lose the opportunity for fellowship during this time, we would still like to celebrate the work of our 2020 Women’s Research on Women invited guest speakers and encourage you to follow them in their scholarship; for a brief look at some of what they’ve been up to, please check out below.

See you at next year’s symposium!


Rapid Infant Weight Gain: Parenting Beliefs Impact on Infant Growth

Margaret Bosenbark MSN, RN, PhD Candidate

Clinical Assistant Professor

College of Nursing, Texas A&M University

Rapid infant weight gain (RIWG) has been established as an infant predictor of adult disease   such as, coronary artery disease, hypertension, obesity, and diabetes type two.  RIWG is well established in the literature with several key contributing factors, including infant feeding modality, ethnicity, maternal basal metabolic rate, socioeconomic status, timing of solid food introduction, and parenting response to infant temperament.  The objective of this cross sectional retrospective quantitative study is to identify if parenting beliefs have an effect on infant growth.  By better understanding the link between parenting and infant growth, this study will help to add evidence to the state of the science which seeks to establish a predictor set of variables surrounding RIWG.  The specific aims of the study are to, (1) identify where along a spectrum of parenting beliefs a participant falls, (2) demonstrate infant growth patterns retrospectively across the first year of life,  and (3) understand the impact that parenting beliefs have on infant growth after controlling for a set of predictor variables; maternal age, BMI, highest level of education, socio-economic status, ethnicity, perception of infant temperament, infant gender, breastfeeding status, and timing of solid food introduction. The sample for the study was that of English-peaking first-time moms whose infant is between 12 and 24 months old. The infant must be a singleton, term infant with no medical diagnosis that would impact growth and development.  Each mother completed a demographic and parenting survey, had their height and weight measured and then granted HIPPA access to their infant’s growth chart data for review.


Women on High Courts

Maria C. Escobar-Lemmon

Associate Dean and Professor of Political Science

College of Liberal Arts, Texas A&M University

Valerie Hoekstra, Alice J. Kang, and Mikki Caul Kittilson

Around the world the number of women participating on high courts has continued to increase.  However, gains have been uneven with some (unexpected) countries filling the benches of the highest courts with women while others remain male dominated.

Yet most of these gains have taken place in the last two decades as prior to 2000 fewer than 10% of high court judges, on average, were female.  This holds true regardless of whether we look at Constitutional Courts, the highest Court of Appeals (often referred to as Courts of Cassation), or to Supreme Courts.  Not all countries structure their judicial system the same way.  It is common in Civil Law systems to have one court that bears responsibility for determining the constitutionality of laws and acts while a separate court is the final court of appeal.  In other cases, like the United States, a single body (which we refer to as a Supreme Court) is performs both functions.

In this figure you also see a line which increases steadily over time, this tracks the number of country-courts for which we were able to obtain information on the gender composition.  For instance, we were only able to obtain good composition data for about 60 country-courts in 1970, but we have information on over 150 in 2014.

One of the most interesting things to emerge from our research is that women have made gains around the world, not only in the advanced industrial democracies.  While Scandinavia, long renowned as progressive in the status of women, leads the world with an average of 33.9% of high court judges being female during the 2010-2014 period.   Women also sit on high courts in other parts of the world.

As might be expected women’s participation on high courts lags in parts of the world that use religious law (e.g. the Middle East and North Africa).  However, the gap is much smaller between Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa and the West than one might expect.  This points to the important role played by the diffusion of global norms, something we explore in our forthcoming book.

You might be surprised to learn that the first woman to join a high court was appointed to the peak court of appeals in France in 1946! The first woman joined the highest courts in Poland (1948), Germany (1951) and Denmark (1953) shortly thereafter.  But women were also shattering the glass ceiling quite early in unexpected places.  Turkey appointed the first female high court judge in 1954 and Mexico in 1961, decades before Sandra Day O’Connor took her place on the United States Supreme Court.

We explored in a quantitative analysis the factors which determine when the first woman will be appointed to a high court.  Among the things we identify as being the most important is a desire to emulate regional peers who have already appointed the first woman.  There may be a positive effect as countries do not want to lag behind their neighbors in reaching important representational milestones.  And that it is only in the OECD where selectors who might claim electoral advantage act to appoint the first woman early.  Outside the OECD whether those who pick high court judges are elected or not has little effect.

Want to learn more?  Check out two of our recent publications:

Escobar-Lemmon, Maria C.; Valerie Hoekstra, Alice J. Kang, and Miki Caul Kittilson. 2019. “Appointing women to high courts” in Research Handbook on Law and Courts, Susan M. Sterett and Lee Demetrius Walker, eds,  Cheltenham, UK/Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Escobar-Lemmon, Maria C.; Valerie Hoekstra, Alice J. Kang, and Miki Caul Kittilson. forthcoming. “Breaking the Judicial Glass Ceiling” Journal of Politics.


The Gendered Politics of Congressional Elections

Sarah A. Fulton and

Kostanca Dhima

PhD Candidate

Department of Political Science/Liberal Arts College, Texas A&M University

Are female candidates less likely than male candidates to attract votes or win elections? We conduct a large-n longitudinal analysis employing survey and observational data from every two-party congressional race over a 12-year period (2006–2018) and connect individual-level theory and evidence with aggregate-level results. We demonstrate that candidate gender significantly influences congressional vote choice and election outcomes. Holding other variables constant, we show that male Republican and male independent voters are significantly less likely to vote for female Democratic candidates, but do not assess a similar penalty on female Republican candidates. Perceived ideological distance does not explain the lack of support for female Democrats—however, variation in candidate quality does: Female Democratic candidates can attract the support of male Republican and male independent voters when they have a qualifications advantage, but are penalized when they are merely “as qualified.” At the aggregate-level, female Democratic candidates with a qualifications advantage are as likely as males to win elections; but are significantly less likely than males to win when qualifications are held constant. The proportion of male Republicans and male independents in a district determines the extent of the penalty, with women’s electoral prospects declining as this proportion increases. Women can win, but they need to be highly qualified and strategic about the races in which they emerge. These findings contribute to our understanding of the micro and macro-level factors that shape women’s electoral fortunes; and advance the goal of representational equality by helping candidates and campaigns concentrate their efforts on the most winnable voters and districts.



Susan Ayres, JD, PhD, MFA


School of Law, Texas A&M University

In 2016, Vermont College of Fine Arts accepted me into its low-residency MFA program for creating writing, with a concentration in translation.  I was very fortunate that then-dean (Andy Morriss) of the Law School supported me in this endeavor, as the current dean (Bobby Ahdieh) has continued to do.

I began translating Elsa Cross’s poems in 2017, and have met with her in Mexico several times to work together on the translations.  Elsa Cross is an award-winning poet (of many poetry prizes, including Mexico’s highest literary prize, the National Prize of Arts and Literature), and has published over 30 volumes of poetry.  She is also a Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Religion at UNAM in Mexico City.

My project has involved translating a short volume of haiku sequences, Chapultepec Park, 7 A.M., and a longer volume of elegies, Nadir (2010). I have also put together a chapbook of my original poems.

Below is a variation of one of Cross’s poems from Chapultepec Park, 7A.M.—as a variation, it is what John Dryden calls “paraphrase” or “translation with latitude.”


For Apolonia Carrasco Sergi

In ghostly silver

the full moon comes to the ground,

encircles the branches.


Like fog, the moonlight

wanders among the bare trees:                     

souls of the lost.


The new moon covers

you with frosty hands during

the month of October.


The moon is lost.

No matter how much you search,

she stays hidden.


You look, but you can’t see

behind the shimmering veil

of her outline.


She comes out to show

her face, looks around, then returns

behind the clouds.


Now she travels quickly,

showing her silver lining

and her smile.


Her flight is crossed

by a silent and intent

devil’s consort.


“Reflections on Kidnap and Rape Culture: How Can Bride Kidnapping in Central Asia Give Us New Insights on Rape Culture at U.S. Universities?”

Cynthia Werner, PhD

Professor of Anthropology

College of Liberal Arts and Director of ADVANCE in the Dean of Faculties Office, Texas A&M University

My research is geographically based in the region of Central Asia, an area that includes the former “Muslim republics” of the Soviet Union. I have played a leading role in scholarly debates about the rise of non-consensual bride abduction in the 1990s. In a 2004 publication, I situated this practice within a historical context, arguing that the frequency of “non-consensual” bride abduction was relatively low during the Soviet years (when gender equality was a state priority) and then increased in the post-Soviet years (with the rise of nationalism, corruption, and economic disruption). I expanded on these ideas in a second publication (2009) that explained how discourses of shame and tradition have been mobilized in ways that help perpetuate non-consensual bride abduction, especially in Kyrgyzstan where the practice has been re-imagined as a national tradition. A more recent paper (2019) teases out some of the similarities and differences between “kidnap culture” in Central Asia and “rape culture” on U.S. campuses. This short brief delineates some of the key arguments in that paper, including the idea that institutions play an important role in supporting or thwarting social change.

Despite cultural differences, there are striking similarities in the way that young women are impacted by patriarchy in the United States and Central Asia. In the United States, one out of four college women are likely to become the victims of sexual assault before they graduate (Cantor et al. 2015; Fisher et al. 2000; Koss et al. 1987; Krebs et al. 2007).  Meanwhile, in some regions of Central Asia, the odds of a young woman being kidnapped against her will by a man who wants to marry her are similarly high (Handrahan 2004; Kleinbach et al. 2005; Shields 2006; Werner 2004). The majority of women opt to remain silent (in the case of rape) and to accept the marriage (in the case of bride abduction).  In both societies, the men who commit these acts can rely on the perpetuation and reproduction of a patriarchal value system to protect them from strong sanctions.  Even in the era of the #metoo movement, victims of rape fear that their credibility will be questioned and their behavior will be scrutinized. Similarly, men who abduct women know that they are likely to get away with it because the bride will be convinced that he is a nice guy and that this type of marriage is a national tradition. They will also accept out of fear of the stigma of being a girl who returned home.

These patriarchal practices are not limited to the perpetrator and the victim.  Indeed, the reason that the patriarchal value system is so powerful is that the ideas and beliefs exemplified in rape myths and kidnap myths are shared by a large segment of society. Although there are significant cultural differences, young, unmarried women in both societies are still regarded as “sexual gatekeepers” in the sense that they are likely be judged for being sexually permissive in ways that men would not be judged.  Sexual assault and bride abduction bring a woman’s status as a sexual gatekeeper into question. After a woman has been sexually assaulted or kidnapped, members of the community (and the household) play a role in influencing how a woman responds to these acts. Victims of sexual assault may be verbally threatened by friends of the assailant, while victims of kidnapping might be verbally pressured by family members of the groom to accept the marriage. In both settings, public scrutiny is likely to intensify at the moment that a woman attempts to resist patriarchy by reporting a rape or rejecting a suitor. A woman who chooses to report a sexual assault to campus authorities or to the police is likely to face public questions about her behavior before she was assaulted (i.e. “did she deserve it?”) and questions about consent (i.e. “did it really happen?”).  Additionally, in Central Asia, a woman who rejects a marriage is likely to deal with public scrutiny regarding her character and marriageability.

Although the comparison of these two cases demonstrates the power of patriarchal value systems in two different settings, I am optimistic that the value system is capable of change. State actors (and campus administrators) can and should play a role in attempting to change the cultures that normalize rape and non-consensual kidnapping. In this regard, the comparison between kidnap culture and rape culture has the potential to be instructive.

In Central Asia, there are signs to suggest that kidnap culture has become more entrenched in Central Asia in the past twenty-five years, especially in Kyrgyzstan (Werner 2009). Although the Soviet government was by no means ideal, it did introduce and support polices that supported gender equity. The fall of the Soviet Union ushered in a revival of ethno-national identities and the rise of non-consensual bride abduction.  In Kyrgyzstan, where non-consensual bride abduction appears to be higher than other countries, this practice has increasingly been re-imagined as a national tradition (Kleinbach and Salimjanova 2007; Werner 2009; Werner et al. 2018).  Consequently, local activists who challenge the practice are viewed as traitors to their ethnicity. Government officials generally dismiss the efforts of activists and deny that bride abduction is a problem. Researchers for the Human Rights Watch report note that police officers “treated it as a laughing matter, giggling when the topic was brought up” and offering to “kidnap Human Rights Watch’s researchers while they were in town (Shields 2006, 126).  These developments suggest that kidnap culture remains entrenched in Central Asia, and the psychological impacts of kidnapping are likely to be compounded by the fact that there is minimal social and moral support for women who are kidnapped against their will.

The Central Asia case is instructive for understanding the U.S. case, and the need for strong institutional support at both the national and local university levels. The federal government and campus administrators have been playing a role in shaping key changes since 2011 with new federal guidelines for Title IX of the Education Amendment. In response to these new guidelines and the growing number of Title IX investigations, many campuses have changed the way they handle sexual assault cases, by developing victim-centered approaches and introducing new educational programs that focus on bystander awareness and “yes means yes” approaches to consent (Welch 2014; Winerip 2014). These developments, and the subsequent emergence of the #Metoo movement, have helped erode rape culture in the United States. These developments provide psychological and moral support for sexual assault victims, and ideally also reduce the frequency of sexual assault. As the Central Asia case suggests, it is crucial that federal and university support for these changes continue in order to have a lasting impact.


Cantor, David, Bonnie Fisher, Susan Chibnall, Reanne Townsent, Hyunshik Lee, Carol Bruce, and Gail Thomas. 2015. “Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct.” Association of American Universities. September 21, 2015. Rockville, Maryland: Westat.

Fisher, Bonnie S., Francis T. Cullen, and Michael G. Turner. 2000.  “The Sexual Victimization of College Women. Research Report.” Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice and Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Handrahan, Lori. 2004. “Hunting for Women: Bride-Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 6 (2):207-233.

Kleinbach, Russell, Mehrigiul Ablezova, and Medina Aitieva. 2005. “Kidnapping for Marriage (ala kachuu) in a Kyrgyz Village.” Central Asian Survey 24 (2):191-202.

Kleinbach, Russell and Lilly Salimjanova. 2007. “Kyz ala kachuu and adat: Non-Consensual Bride Kidnapping and Tradition in Kyrgyzstan.” Central Asian Survey 26 (2):217-233.

Koss, Mary P., Christine A. Gidycz, and Nadine Wisniewski. 1987. “The Scope of Rape: Incidence and Prevalence of Sexual Aggression and Victimization in a National Sample of Higher Education Students.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 55 (2):162-70.

Krebs, Christopher P., Christine H. Lindquist, Tara D. Warner, Bonnie S. Fisher, and Sandra L. Martin. 2007. “The Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study: Final Report.” Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, US Department of Justice.

Shields, Acacia. 2006. “Reconciled to Violence: State Failure to Stop Domestic Abuse and Abduction of Women in Kyrgyzstan.” Human Rights Watch Report. September 26, 2006. Accessed March 17, 2015.

Welch, William M. 2014. “California adopts ‘yes means yes’ law.” USA Today. September 29, 2014.

Werner, Cynthia. 2004. “Women, Marriage, and the Nation-State: The Rise of Non-Consensual Bride Kidnapping in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan.” In Reconceptualizing Central Asia: States and Societies in Formation, edited by Pauline Luong Jones, 59-80. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Werner, Cynthia. 2009. “Bride Abduction in Post-Soviet Central Asia: Marking a Shift Towards Patriarchy through Local Discourses of Shame and Tradition.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 15 (2):314-331.

Werner, Cynthia, Christopher Edling, Charles Becker, Elena Kim, Russell Kleinbach, Fatima Sartbay, and Woden Teachout. 2018. “Bride Kidnapping in Post-Soviet Eurasia: A Roundtable Discussion” Central Asian Survey 37(4):582-601.

Cynthia Werner. 2019. “Reflections on Rape Culture and Kidnap Culture: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of the Psychological and Social Forces that Reinforce Patriarchy.” In The Psychology of Women in Patriarchy. Edited by Holly Mathews and Adriana Manago. University of New Mexico Press. Published in cooperation with the School of Advanced Research Press.  Albuquerque, New Mexico. Pp. 211-233.

Winerip, Michael. 2014. “Stepping Up to Stop Sexual Assault.” The New York Times. February 7, 2014.


2020 Symposium Invited Keynotes:

Maria C. Escobar Lemmon, PhD

Women on High Courts: When and Where?

Margaret Bosenbark, MSN, RN

Rapid Infant Weight Gain: Parenting Beliefs on Infant Growth

Marlene Dixon, PhD

Scaffolding Courage: Building Sport Experiences for Girls and Women

Cynthia Werner, PhD

Reflections on Kidnap and Rape Culture: How Can Bride Kidnapping in Central Asia Give Us New Insights On Rape Culture at U.S. Universities?

Patrice French, MSW

Using Structural Narratives to Explore an Older African American Woman’s Sociocultural Experiences in the South

Susan Ayres, JD, PhD, MFA

Crossing the Border: Poems in Translation and the Life of Poetry

Danila Serra, PhD

Female Role Models Inspire Women to Major in Male-Dominated Fields

Kostanca Dhima, PhD Candidate

The Gendered Politics of Congressional Elections

Kristen Maitland, PhD

Blue Light Emitting Bandage to Prevent Surgical Site Infections