A Champion for Women Around the Globe
Interview with University of Maryland – College Park Professor Emerita Sonya Michel, PhD
by Ivana Alexander
Dr. Sonya Michel is Professor Emerita at the University of Maryland College Park. Her research and teaching center on the history of women, men, genders and sexualities and the history of poverty and social welfare, both in the U.S. and in comparative perspective. Dr. Michel also participates in an international research network on women, migration, and the work of care, both historical and contemporary. Her recent publications include two collections: Gender, Migration and the Work of Care: A Multi-Scalar Approach to the Pacific Rim, co-edited with Ito Peng (Palgrave 2017); and Reassembling Motherhood: Procreation and Care in a Globalized World, co-edited with Yasmine Ergas and Jane Jenson (Columbia University Press, 2017). She is also the author of Children’s Interests/ Mothers’ Rights: The Shaping of America’s Child Care Policy (Yale University Press, 1999). In this issue, Dr. Michel discusses her research on women and social policy and the interconnectedness of the global care chain.
On her path to women’s history and social policy research:
Dr. Michel came to her work as an historian focused on women and social policy during her studies as a graduate student at Brown University. Her interest in child care policy, in particular, came from her personal experiences as a student and new mother navigating the challenge of finding quality, affordable child care. She came to graduate work at Brown, where she received her M.A. and Ph.D., after more than a decade of activism in the women’s movement, which further sparked her desire to study women’s involvement in the public sphere.
Throughout her career, Dr. Michel has sought to ensure that pressing women’s policy issues are grounded in the context of women’s involvement in social change and reform over the course of US history. Her influence in this area and in American political history writ large led to many career achievements, including serving as the Director of the United States Studies Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where she worked to promote policy solutions rooted in scholarship.
You can hear one of Professor Michel’s talks on the history of maternalism and its importance in the national dialogue on women and social policy by clicking on the link below:
On her research focus on child care policy:
Her current research grew out of what she found as she studied child care in the United States, which was the longstanding dearth of quality, affordable services, something Dr. Michel views as an enormous gap in social policy. This gap has led to the reliance on immigrant and other low-wage workers who provide care for an increasing number of American families. Often these care workers are women with families, who, in their capacity as breadwinners, are often compelled to leave them behind in their home countries in order to seek employment in the United States. In addition, many of these workers lack labor protections, making them vulnerable to financial and employment instability. This dynamic has major implications for social and immigration policy, and Dr. Michel’s work illuminates these important concerns.
On top policy issues in women and social policy:
Dr. Michel views care policy as one of the most pressing policy issues because of its impact on women, families, and the global economy. She believes that stakeholders and policymakers should focus on public provision and oversight of a care work system that is high-quality, fair, and equitable for workers as well as for families needing services. As the need for care workers continues to grow because of an aging baby-boomer generation that increasingly wants to age in place as well as the rise in female labor force participation worldwide, policymakers at the local, state, national and international level must work together to bring about the necessary changes.
RESEARCHER SPOTLIGHT ARCHIVE