Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Links: Abortion Care Under Attack

Congresswoman Virginia Foxx joins Pro-Life members of Congress to demand that healthcare reform does not require taxpayer funded abortion or abortion insurance mandates. (Flickr/Rep. Virginia Foxx)
  • Several states have already banned abortion coverage in the state health insurance exchanges, and several more are looking at doing the same. [Guttmacher Institute]
  • Think Stupak was bad? A new bill would go even farther in banning abortion coverage. [Mother Jones]
  • Steph Herold talks about her Twitter hashtag #ihadanabortion. [The Daily Femme]
  • All this buzz about Natalie Portman's new ballet psychological thriller reminds one writer that she was once a ballerina with an eating disorder. [Crushable]
  • Another reason Robyn is awesome: "It's not politically correct any more to not be a feminist which is good, but for me, feminism is still necessary and that sucks." [AFP]
  • Hyde hurts poor women and women of color the most, says the illustrious Jessica Arons. [Campus Progress]
  • Thanks to the recession, more black women's hair salons are closing. At the same time, salons that traditionally serve a predominately white clientele are seeing an increase in diversity of its stylists. [Washington Post]
  • Amanda Hess reports on the protesters camped out outside Leroy Carhart's new clinic in Maryland. [TBD]
  • A women's soccer coach at Belmont University was reportedly fired after revealing she was a lesbian and that she and her partner were expecting a baby, but her firing has ignited pro-gay activism on campus. [Inside Higher Ed]
  • Impostor syndrome comes to life with a young woman who grades herself far below what her peers do in an academic setting. [Geek Feminism]
  • What holiday season would be complete without a bacon and sausage nativity? [Gawker]

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Demographics of Twitter

Pew Research Center has now decided that Twitter is important enough to study on its own! Yet only 8 percent of all internet users—a full 6 percent of the population overall—actually use it.

The following chart was included in its most recent report and I thought it was sort of interesting. Among the findings: women and people of color, particularly Hispanics, are more likely to use Twitter than men and whites, respectively.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Report: 'Marriage Is in Real Trouble'

(Flickr/mircea tudorache)

Lately there's a lot of panic about marriage. That panic is reflected in the title of a report released The State of Our Unions: Marriage in America 2010 [PDF] this week titled "When Marriage Disappears: The New Middle America." This annual report is co-produced by the National Marriage Project, a research project at the University of Virginia, and the Center for Marriage and Families, a sub-set of the conservative Institute for American Values, which counts among its scholars Prop 8 supporter and National Organization for Marriage spokesperson Maggie Gallagher.

The report notes several facts about marriage, notably something that I blogged about not that long ago, that marriage is remaining popular among the highly educated but falling in popularity among the less educated. The State of Our Unions report calls this group of people the "moderately educated," or those with high school degrees and maybe some college or vocational training. The executive summary notes begins by declaring "In middle America, marriage is in trouble."

And they seem to have the data to back such a statement up: Not only is the difference in those getting hitched in the first place, but it seems that the poorer you are, the more likely you are to get divorced. If you're highly educated, the likelihood of you getting divorced within your first 10 years of marriage is just 11 percent (down 4 percent from 1970). The "moderately educated," on the other hand, face a 37 percent (+1) chance of divorce or separation. The least educated, those without a high school diploma, in other words, have a 36 percent (-10) chance.

For the writers of this report, this is very bad news. They write, "For if marriage is increasingly unachievable for our moderately educated citizens—a group that represents 58 percent of the adult population, (age 25 to 60)—then it is likely that we will witness the emergence of a new society. For a substantial share of the United States, economic mobility will be out of reach, their children's life chances will diminish, and large numbers of young men will live apart from the civilizing power of married life."

That's quite the statement on this trend. Though it seems that marriage is becoming less popular among those who are less educated and the less educated are more likely to divorce within 10 years, I'm having a harder time finding it quite the crisis that the report makes it out to be. Though it's true that there's high correlation between marriage and "successful" children, it's tough to tell if marriage is the thing that's causing that success. The one useful thing Elizabeth Gilbert laid out in Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage, what many called a self-indulgent book, was a chapter on the history of marriage and many of its purported benefits. After analyzing the data, she notes that it stability, not marriage itself, that seems best for children.

That's not to knock marriage itself or those who want to get married. Even the authors of the report note that "being married" is an important value. Roughly three-quarters of every class of education believe marriage is important; 75 percent of the least educated, 76 percent of the moderately educated and 79 percent of the highly educated.

But if we're experiencing a trend where marriage is less important for some subsets of the population, it's hard for me to contemplate how that is a state of crisis. After are, there are lots of things that make the moderately educated unhappy. The crappy economy, for instance. And who's to say that this declining marriage rate among the moderately educated isn't just folks putting marriage off until they have better jobs? (Or jobs at all?) People are known to delay divorce in tough economic times, and it seems these days, they're delaying marriage as well (if not parenthood).

But it's hard to deny that the way we've set up marriage means that by default we've made marriage into a status symbol: a huge party that costs in the tens of thousands of dollars, joint tax filings, diamond engagement ring worth two month's salary, etc. It's no wonder the highly educated are finding marriage more attractive while the lower educated might find it less so. The report notes that there is a growing gap in America today, not just between the rich and the poor, but also a gap between the rich and the middle class. The gap in marriage interest seems easily explainable when you look at social and economic factors.

Instead, we're faced with panic over how marriage is in the decline (sometimes even blaming feminism). Even if marriage is in decline, I'm not convinced that that's the ultimate undoing of America. Surely other things, like rising poverty, poor public education, and serious social injustices hurt Americans far worse.

In the end, it's important not to view larger trends as something that can be blamed on the choices of individuals. And if some people are finding that marriage isn't for them—whether highly educated or not—it's important to respect that choice.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Separate But Equal? ESPN Launches Women's Site

(Flickr/Tulane Public Relations)

Yesterday ESPN announced it was launching a new site called ESPNW:
Presented in a blog format, espnW.com will offer fan- and athlete-centric content geared toward female athletes and sports fans aged 18+. The site, supported by a Twitter and Facebook presence, will incorporate posts by top female sports columnists and bloggers, pro athletes, expert contributors and news from a variety of ESPN and non-ESPN news outlets. This 1.0 version of espnW.com will serve as a precursor to a more robust web site with mobile applications and personalized content that will launch in Spring 2011.
If ESPN is trying to cater more to women with its content, it's about damn time. Title IX will have its 40th birthday in 2012. Women now account for 46 percent of NFL fans, which has sent the NFL merchandising team scrambling to make hay of female fans' purchasing power. American Women in Sports Media, founded back in 1988, boasts a membership of "over 600." And the National Sports Foundation, founded by tennis pioneer Billie Jean King, notes that sponsorships of women's sports have more than tripled from 1992 to 2000 to $1 billion and that two in five high school girls play some kind of varsity sport. While women still aren't the majority of fans or athletes, they're a quickly growing demographic in both sports and sports coverage. ESPNW seems aimed both at promoting both women sports writers and professional and college women athletes.

In some ways, I'm excited to see this new product. As a recently renewed sports fan, I've been looking for fan blogs and sports stories on my favorite teams -- but almost all of them have been written by men, with the occasional misogynist joke thrown in for good measure. The biggest fan blogs and professional sports journalism sites tend to be dominated both by male writers and male commentors. It's refreshing to read sports commentary written by women, but what's puzzling to me is why ESPN felt the need to put it on its own site rather than simply promote women within ESPN.com.

Some of the content found on ESPNW is very similar to the kind of content already found on ESPN's main page, like their recaps of last night's NFL and NBA games. Other stories highlight the achievement of women athletes, like Kara Lawson's "Five Big Reasons to Watch Women's Basketball." None of it would -- or should -- look out of place on ESPN's main page.

ESPN is likely following the trends of other websites that have started rolling out female-only websites to varying degrees of success over the last few years: Jezebel is a subset of Gawker, the short-lived DoubleX stand-alone site for Slate, AOL's Lemondrop, and now the Hairpin is a counter (or supplement, depending on how you look at it) to the Awl. Such a move has been criticized by some, including Ann Friedman in The American Prospect, who argued at the time of DoubleX's launch, "When publishers create separate sites dedicated to women or to black people, they are signaling that they don't see a need to have their main site serve these people as core readers."

It's tough to criticize a new product that probably brought jobs to female sports writers in the middle of a tough economy and while newspapers around their country are cutting sports sections down or completely. But I do hope that if ESPNW performs well -- and who knows if it will -- I hope ESPN will take it as a lesson that they should continue hiring women sports writers and highlighting female athletes.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wal-Mart Tries to Argue Against Class Action Discrimination Cases

(Flickr/Toban Black)

Today the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that could have major implications for pay discrimination. The case is Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the near-infamous class-action lawsuit that argued successfully that hundreds of thousands of female employees at Wal-Mart had been paid less than their male peers.

What's interesting about this case is that whether these women were discriminated against isn't the question -- much as it wasn't for Lily Ledbetter when she argued her case before the Supreme Court against Goodyear. Instead, we're starting to see a trend of employers accepting that they are guilty of discriminating against women on pay, but they're managing to find other ways to get out of paying the full price for that discrimination. At stake in Wal-Mart is two main things, which SCOTUSblog summarizes here:
The first question will be whether, under Federal court Rule 23, a lawsuit may seek a money verdict — in this case, a claim for back pay — when the class was created under a provision that limits remedies to corrective court orders, not money. Besides agreeing to hear that, the Court told the parties to file briefs and prepare to argue on a second question — whether the class was a proper one, under Rule 23, when it was cleared to go forward under Rule 23(b)(2). It is unclear whether the Court, if it answered that second question in the negative, would be signaling that the class case might still proceed under a different part of Rule 23 — part (b)(3), which does allow money claims.
It's that second question that legal experts are the most worried about. Wal-Mart is arguing that because this lawsuit includes women at all levels of employment, from management to the lowest level of employees, there's now way their cases can be argued together.

So if Wal-Mart argues this point successfully it's possible this could put an end to class action lawsuits as we know it. The whole idea behind class action lawsuits is that a number of people who have experienced a violation of the law can band together and leverage their power as a group.

If such lawsuits, especially on pay discrimination, are dismissed by the Supreme Court, that could mean that women further lack incentive to argue against discrimination. If each woman has to argue her case against her employee individually, or at least, as a smaller group of employees all at the same level (which, at small companies, can be a group of two or three people), then women will be less likely to be willing to argue their cases in court.

And furthermore, such a decision would ignores the fact that discrimination can be a systemic problem within a company. When women must argue discrimination in individual cases instead of as a group, that means companies would have little reason to address widespread problems of discrimination.

SCOTUSblog says the case is likely to be heard in March or April.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

An Annotated Listicle: Winter Blues Edition

(Flickr/kevindooley)

Those of you that have read the most recent issue of Bitch magazine may have seen my lengthy rant against the listicle featured in most women's magazines. If you haven't read the most recent issue of Bitch you should run out and buy it (or better yet, subscribe). I generally find listicles annoying because they're often lazily written, filled with stereotypes, and almost always include encourage spending money.

So just for fun, I'm going to go through and annotate a listicle. This one comes from The Frisky, although there's no reason I'm picking on The Frisky particularly -- the kinds of listicles they run are pretty common to what most media outlets, on or offline, do. So without further ado, the list below is reprinted in regular text with my commentary in italics.

20 Ways To Beat The Winter Blues
Wendy Atterberry
11:30AM, 12/03/2010

We are less than three weeks away from the shortest day of the year and if you’re anything like me, you’re starting to feel the effects of the winter blues—or Seasonal Affective Disorder—begin to set in. Sure, we have a little distraction with the holidays, but come January if we haven’t set up some routine to break us out of a winter rut, we may find ourselves in danger of barely hanging on until spring. A few weeks ago, you shared some of your ideas for combating the winter blues, and after the jump is a roundup of some of those suggestions plus a few of my own to get us motivated to tackle the long months ahead.
  1. Wear bright colors. There's actually no evidence to suggest that wearing bright colors could affect your mood. This likely comes from the unsubstantiated idea of positive thinking projects a better mood.
  2. Change your light bulbs. I recommend Blues Busters, which produce a light like natural sunlight and cost about $7 a bulb. I started using them a few years ago and they’ve helped tremendously ease the effects of SAD. Blues Busters are energy efficient light bulbs and there actually is some evidence to think that more and better lighting can help elevate one's mood during winter months when sunlight is more scarce. However, there seems little reason to invest in these light bulbs in particular. It seems likely that any energy efficient light bulb would do the same thing just as well -- and cost a lot less. File this item in the category of trying to sell you shit.
  3. Squeeze in a daily daytime walk. If you can bundle up and get out on your lunch break for a 20-minute stroll, do it! If you can’t swing that, consider waking up a little earlier so you can catch a few drops of sunlight before work. If you take public transportation, get on one stop past yours so you can sneak in some sun before you’re stuck in an office all day and miss it. It is actually the case that exercise can help you combat the symptoms of depression. According to the Mayo clinic, exercise has a lot of benefits, but the reasons it works on depression includes that it causes your brain to release neurotransmitters and endorphins, surpresses immune system responses that can cause depression, and raises you're body temperature, which can have a calming effect.
  4. Take a Vitamin D supplement. A study published last year in Applied Nursing Research does seem to indicate that vitamin D can be of particular help to women in battling seasonal depression. However, the study wasn't large enough to be conclusive.
  5. Take St. John’s Wort. This helps ease mild depression associated with SAD, but if you’re on any medication, like birth control, make sure it doesn’t interfere. St. John's Wort is generally peddled by alt medicine practitioners (much of what they sell is proven to have no effect), St. John's Wort is a drug that contains hypericin, something that has an MAO inhibitor, similar to what you might find in commonly prescribed anti-depressants. But it seems like if you're going to suggest someone take a drug like St. John's Wort, it seems best to simply encourage her to see a physician that can describe the anti-depressant that might work best for her.
  6. Socialize more. Organize a weekly potluck or happy hour with friends. Join an evening knitting group or a neighborhood game night. The point is to get out of the rut of office-home-bed that’s so easy to fall into when it’s cold out. Filling some of your after-work hours with friends will help you stay positive and energized through the dark winter months. While social interaction with others is generally psychologically healthy, there's actually evidence that the way girls in particular are socialized from a young age -- to be deferential to others and more sensitive to others' feelings -- can actually increase the likelihood of depression in women.
  7. Invest in some fresh flowers. A burst of color does wonder for one’s mood, and flowers don’t have to be expensive. Carnations, long thought to be granny flowers, are making a bit of a comeback (I love a bunch of hot pink ones cut shorts and kept in something unexpected, like a vintage teacup). A five-dollar bunch can last up to ten days. There's no evidence to suggest that flowers might help with depression, seasonal or otherwise. File this under yet another tip that encourages you to spend money.
  8. Two words: Winter sports. Skiing, sledding, ice skating, snow boarding are great ways to stay active during the cold months. Even if you don’t live in an area where those activities are easily accessible (or affordable), simply hiking through the snow or making snowmen burns calories and gets you out in the fresh air and sunlight. Again, this goes back to the point about exercise.
  9. Paint your walls. It’s like taking the idea of fresh flowers to the next level. And if you don’t like the color, or if you are tired of it by spring, you can always paint over it! This seems to advice from the feng shui school of thought. While painting your house or apartment (assuming you can and you don't have a rental that won't allow you to), this is unlikely to help you with any actual depression problems.
  10. Whiskey. Hey, it keeps you warm and feeling good. So advise people to cheer up by consuming a depressant? Uh, OK.
  11. Eat a piece of chocolate a day. Eh, why not? Doctors say a small piece of dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa) is good for you! Actually, though there is some research that shows chocolate has a temporary mood-booster quality, there's also other evidence that chocolate can actually be worse in the long run for depression (though it's possible this is correlation and not causation).
  12. Keep the shades open. Let the sunshine in! Like exercise, natural light does help with depression, but for a lot of people in winter months, they may go to work before it's light, come home after it's dark, and work in an office or cubicle that's not near an outside space. So, while this might be good advice, probably the best advice is trying to take a walk in the middle of the day.
  13. Invest in a light box. One of our readers recommends the Philips goLITE Blu Plus, which she says has helped her immensely. This is a commercial adaptation of the devices given to folks that live in geographic areas with little-to-no sunlight during the day. Again, it seems if you're really in desperate need of something like this, you should be talking with your doctor about depression. Otherwise, file this under selling you shit you don't need.
  14. Retail therapy. Help yourself, help the economy! Yeah. You know what's known to contribute to depression? Financial distress. You'd probably be better off putting that money into your Roth IRA or 401K.
  15. Warm drinks: tea, coffee, steamers, hot chocolate. Yum. Hey, I know holiday cheer generally comes with warm drinks, so I get why they suggested this. But still, let's not confuse temporary mood boosters with serious depression problems.
  16. Lots of sex. Also, yum. Prescribing sex goes back to the exercise advice. The problem is, if you're also suggesting women take anti-depressants (see #5), you need to remember they often have side effects that suppress sexual desire.
  17. Plan a spring break vacation. I’ve heard that the act of planning a vacation has more benefits than the actual vacation itself, so pick somewhere warm and start strategizing! OK, it's pretty clear this is unsubstantiated from the writer's own language. If planning vacations is something you enjoy, I guess go for it. Personally, I think this sounds stressful.
  18. Indulge in a facial or massage. Winter is brutal on our skin and I don’t know about you, but I get tense shoulders from wearing heavy layers and coats all day, so a monthly facial or massage through the winter months is a wonderful way to practice self-care and keep one’s spirits lifted. Although this blog post for the Mayo clinic's depression blog seems to indicate there's preliminary research that suggests massages might help with depression, I'm a tad skeptical, since it seems to be filed under their "alternative treatments" series -- and alternative treatments often vastly overestimate their effects on serious illnesses. This Reuters article notes that studies on massage and depression aren't scientifically rigorous, especially given that they haven't come up with a way to blind the studies. It seems likely the positive effects of this are due to taking time to relax. It seems likely you could have the same effects if you simply took some quiet time to de-stress each day.
  19. Try a new hobby. Winter is a great time to take up knitting, but regardless what the activity is, filling your time with something new — especially something you can do with others — helps break the winter rut and keep the blues away. As someone who's just re-taught herself knitting in the last year, I'm totally in support of people taking up hobbies they enjoy. But again, it's unclear how this might relate to seasonal depression.
  20. Listen to lively music. Again, chalk this up to alternative therapy mumbo jumbo. The New York Times, in an article about music therapy for depression, even says "there aren’t many credible studies of music therapy for depression." If listening to some Robyn gets you going, great. But don't let this make you believe it's a treatment for serious depression problems.

The main problem with this listicle is that it seems to lump together both serious depression problems (including SAD) with general "mood boosters" that probably do nothing to affect one's happiness or mood problems in the long run but are designed to cheer oneself up. That's all well and good, but it would've been nice for them to note that if you're experiencing serious problems with depression -- and give some tips for how to spot it in yourself and others -- then you should probably think about going to see a doctor or counselor. Instead they offer "retail therapy" and alternative treatments that are unlikely to work on serious problems with depression.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Daria Characters: Quinn Morgendorffer

Now that Daria is out on DVD, I bought it and have been working my way though it. Several episodes helped me get through a pretty devastating sickness earlier this week. Let me just say that I loved watching Daria marathons on MTV when I was growing up. The show's sharp social commentary picks at stereotypes prevalent in the 1990s. Granted, the show still perpetuates some stereotypes of its own, but watching it again, it has held up remarkably well over time.

I recently watched "Monster," an episode in season 2 of the show in which Daria and Jane follow Daria's sister Quinn around with a video camera for a class project. Quinn is supposed to be the ultimate stereotype of a pretty and popular high school girl that everyone hates -- that is, unless you were the pretty and popular girl in high school. She's presented as the opposite of the main character Daria, a smart and cynical teenager that provides entertaining sarcastic commentary but is definitely on the social periphery.

But these days, I began to see Quinn a little differently. In many ways, Quinn is an early version of a stereotype we've become intimately familiar with in the past decade: Girls that are under incredible pressure to be perfect. "Monster" reveals Quinn breaking down when discussing her pores -- "My pores are tiny!" she screams. "Stop zooming!" (Oh to think how this might have played out in the era of HD.) The breakdown reveals how much work her seemingly effortless perfection is for her.

Quinn also makes a speech near the end of "Monster" that reveals Quinn has given some thought to her position in the high school social class. I didn't transcribe the speech in full, but the gist of it is that everyone needs to be "good at something" and the something that Quinn is good at is being "attractive and popular." This is remarkably self-aware. She seems to have chosen to throw her effort into what she perceives to be her talent, even if it might be a shallow one.

What's interesting about this is that while Quinn views her her chief job in life is being "attractive and popular" it seems that her interaction with boys isn't anything beyond status. Though Quinn talks nearly constantly about boys, it's almost always as a way of collecting status symbols. She debates whether she wants a boyfriend whose parents have a beach house or a boyfriend whose parents have a ski cottage. Quinn often outright forgets the name of whatever boy has driven her somewhere because to her, they're interchangeable.

Quinn might spend much effort on her beauty, but the fact that she is attractive to the opposite sex is only relevant for what ride she can leverage or other perk she can get from a boy. In many ways, Quinn turns the notion of the revolving door that's usually reserved for girlfriends of the main male character on its head. To her it is the boys that revolve through her life interchangeably and the girls who are members of the fashion club are both her friends and her competition. In Quinn's life, it's the girls that matter the most.

This might be obnoxious, but in many ways, it's also remarkable that she can so adeptly identify how to leverage the power of her appearance. For Quinn, beauty is a form of power -- just so long as she can withstand the pressure.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Links: Retro Edition

  • Though I typically despise listicles, I can at least agree with the premise: The '90s rocked. [The Frisky]
  • Cristina Hendricks on her Johnny Walker: "I like my Green Label neat or I like my Gold Label chilled." [Grub Street]
  • Video: Katha Pollitt on Sarah Palin's gross misinterpretation of feminist history. [GritTV]
  • "I forgot to have children!" postcards [Cafe Press, via Lindsay Beyerstein]
  • Amanda Hess helps us navigate the history behind the New York Times' latest exercise in Sex and the City gender essentialism. [TBD]
  • If you're in New York this weekend, I'd highly recommend partaking in the Radical '80s Prom going on tonight. [Feministe]
  • How much is Netflix's stock worth? [Daily Intel]
  • Sandra Lee is terrible. [YouTube]
  • But, apparently also feminist for having her own career while her boyfriend wins the New York governorship. [Daily Best]

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Birth Control Backlash?

(Flickr/jessamyn.n)

New York Magazine recently published a cover story on the 50th anniversary of the pill (something a number of news outlets did months ago), but the story, written by Vanessa Grigoriadis, talks about how wonderful the pill (or the Pill, as she refers to it throughout the piece) is with one giant "but."
The fact is that the Pill, while giving women control of their bodies for the first time in history, allowed them to forget about the biological realities of being female until it was, in some cases, too late. It changed the narrative of women’s lives, so that it was much easier to put off having children until all the fun had been had (or financial pressures lessened). Until the past couple of decades, even most die-hard feminists were still married at 25 and pregnant by 28, so they never had to deal with fertility problems, since a tiny percentage of women experience problems conceiving before the age of 28. Now many New York women have shifted their attempts at conception back about ten years. And the experience of trying to get pregnant at that age amounts to a new stage in women’s lives, a kind of second adolescence. For many, this passage into childbearing—a Gail Sheehy–esque one, with its own secrets and rituals—is as fraught a time as the one before was carefree.
Few things set the feminist blogosphere into rants quicker than birth control -- particularly discussions about the pill -- so I'm reluctant to pile on to what's already been said articulately and wonderfully by women I respect. But I do have a few more things to add.

First of all, while the pill (which includes it's alternative methods of the Nuvaring and the Depo-Provera shot) is very popular, it's only barely the most popular form of birth control. According to Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health think tank, 28 percent of women choose the pill as their primary form of birth control. It's followed closely by tubular sterilization (27.1 percent), and more distantly followed by the condom (16.1 percent), male vasectomies (9.9 percent, and intrauterine devices, or IUDs (5.5 percent). Incidentally, IUDs, an effective form of birth control, come with hefty upfront costs that are rarely covered by insurance. It's possible IUDs would be more popular if they were more affordable.

In other words, while the pill has changed the world, it's more that the pill was the first such technology to help women take control over their reproductive lives. Other technologies have stepped in to offer a diverse set of choices for women, even if there are few choices for men -- something Grigoriadis, to her credit, takes time to point out.

Even though the story has a lot of great facts on the pill, how it works, and its importance today, what most women object to on reading Grigoriadis' story is the paragraph I highlighted above. Much of the article is devoted to hemming and hawing over women who delay childbearing too long and then struggle to get pregnant.

But that fiction, while convenient, simply isn't true for everyone. While it is true that women increased the average age of their first birth -- by about 3.6 years according to the Centers for Disease Control -- from 1970, the average age of first birth in America is still only 25 as of 2006. This is, of course, wildly subject to other demographic factors, including your race:


And, of course, the state that you live in. In New York state, the state that Grigoriadis says is plagued with women who are delaying their first pregnancy, the average age of first birth is 26.8. Still pretty young. Incidentally the state that has the highest age of first birth is Massachusetts -- 27.7 years -- just a year older and hardly the threat of 38 at which Grigoriadis hinted.

While averages mean that there are women having children at older ages, that also means there are women having babies at younger ages, too. She's choosing to focus on a specific demographic, a fact that she doesn't even bother to acknowledge.

I was also surprised that Grigoriadis didn't mention potential other, more practical, reasons women may be delaying their fist child. After all, America and Australia are the only two industrialized countries that don't mandate paid maternity leave for women. Furthermore, paternity leave is virtually nonexistent, except for among some high-paying professionals. That puts women in a compromised position from the start for asking more help of their partners with children.

What's more women earn less than their male peers, taking longer for women to set aside acceptable "savings" for their new family members. No wonder so many career-driven women want to wait until they've achieved a certain number of things in their careers before they "settle down" to have children.

But ultimately, it's hard for me to stomach this article scaring women that they're not having babies early enough when the reality is she's talking about a very small segment of relatively privileged women who are making choices to procreate later because they must to send their children to the right schools, have the right house with enough bedrooms, and worry over nutrition during pregnancy. And that is something that definitely can't be blamed on the pill.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Links: Ginny Weasley is Awesome

(Flickr/Evelis Santos)
  • An unabashed love letter to Ginny Weasley. [Feministing]
  • Audio: Experts discuss the impact of the recession on reproductive health. [Guttmacher Institute]
  • Why your future has pretty much nothing to do with your actual happiness. [Jezebel]
  • Blacks and Latinos still aren't getting into the nation's top colleges. [Colorlines]
  • Crisis pregnancy centers are stealing your tax dollars. [Abortion Gang]
  • Real life superheroes: Woman escorts her flasher to the police. [Hollaback!]
  • Monica Potts does some analysis on the failed Paycheck Fairness Act. [The American Prospect]
  • Crunching the numbers on girls playing with "gendered" toys in holiday catalogs. [Redefine Girly]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Kid Rock To Perform NFL Halftime Show on Thanksgiving

(Flickr/familymwr)

I have some bad news: Tomorrow, Kid Rock — that’s right, the man who made it big with Devil Without a Cause (1998) and Cocky (2001) and offered genius lyrical stylings such as “Bawitdaba da bang a dang diggy diggy diggy said the boogy said up jump the boogy” — will be performing the halftime show for one of the Thanksgiving day football games.

In some ways it makes perfect sense. After all, Rock, born Robert James Ritchie, is from the exurbs of Detroit and he’ll be performing at tomorrow’s game is between the Detroit Lions and the New England Patriots. He’s promoting his recently released album Born Free. The occasion will also promote Rock’s upcoming 40th birthday party, which will be performed at Detroit’s Fox Theatre on Comedy Central on January 17. What’s more, the NFL is no stranger to promoting itself through country stars — Faith Hill and Hank Williams, Jr., have a near-permanent place promoting the Sunday and Monday night games.

Rock has been more on the national radar lately because he also performed at Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s “Rally to Restore Sanity/Keep Fear Alive” — something that could have alienated his more conservative country fans since the rally was set up in opposition to Glenn Beck’s “Rally to Restore Honor.” Rock performed with Sheryl Crow, reminding us of that other time the two had a hit (“Picture” went gold).

But the song he performed at the Stewart/Colbert rally, “Care,” had lyrics “I can’t stop the war, shelter homeless, feed the poor … I can’t change the world and make things fair / The least that I can do is care” that also pissed off some on the left. Rock’s message promoted a rather unenlightened vision — a feeling that things are bad but ultimately that nothing can be done about them.

Rock came to fame in the late-1990s era of popular country, with elements of rap added into the mix. He had a reputation as a bad boy — he married and divorced Playboy model Pamela Anderson in the space of four months. His Rolling Stone covers (1 & 2) portrayed him as something of a white trash phenomenon. (One cover actually teased the story about him with the words “Kid Rock Talks Trash.”) Rock’s lyrics, however, lack some of the legitimacy of those who are actually viewed as rebelling against authority and instead promote a frustrated apathy. “Only God Knows Why,” one of his singles from his 1998 album Devil Without a Cause, presents a character trapped by circumstances and crying out in hopelessness. Even the title of the album suggests rebelling for the sake of rebelling.

The same is reflected in Rock’s lyrics to the single from his latest album. “Born Free” is a mix of anxiety and nostalgia that’s all too often reflected in modern political dialogue, “You can knock me down and watch me bleed / But you can’t keep no chains on me.” In the music video, freedom is represented by Rock driving down the highway in a convertible with longhorns on the grill. His messages are frustrated but unspecific about causes or a path forward.

Sure, we might be in the middle of a ’90s revival, but Rock’s message, something that comes neither from the left or the right, is one that I’m not really interested in revisiting. Here’s hoping we won’t see a Kid Rock comeback.

This post originally appeared on Pinna Storm.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Veterans Groups Remain Uncommitted on Gainful Employment Rules

(Flickr/The U.S. Army)

Last Wednesday, at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, several veterans gathered to talk about what veterans need in higher education. Their concerns ranged from making credit transfers easier for veterans and active duty members who often attend multiple schools because of deployments, to making sure campuses have dedicated veteran counselors who can help them navigate paperwork for GI Bill benefits. The event was sponsored by the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU), formerly known as the Career Colleges Association, which represents the interests of many for-profit schools.

Only one veterans' advocacy group was represented on the panel. Tim Embree, legislative associate for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), commented on the need for colleges to have dedicated offices for veteran students. Other panelists included: Michael Brink, a Republican staffer on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs; Kathy Snead, president of the Servicemembers Opportunity College; Craig Herndon, special assistant to the chancellor of Virginia's Community Colleges; William Hillard, CEO of Anthem College; James Hendrickson, vice president of the Wounded Warriors and Spouses Scholarship Fund for Colorado Technical University; Scott Palumbo DeVry University's National Director of Military Affairs; and Will Sampson, senior vice president and chief information officer of ECB Bankcorp, Inc.

According to data provided by APSCU at the event, "Private sector colleges and universities have a higher percentage of those working with military service than any other segment of postsecondary education." The group used data from the National Center for Education Statistics to conclude that 6.1 percent of students at private sector schools have at least some military experience compared with 3.9 percent at public schools and 4.2 at private non-profit schools. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in 2008 that "While 6 percent of all college students choose for-profit institutions, 19 percent of students who use GI Bill benefits at the top 500 colleges that serve such students do."

Once the panel discussion had concluded, Harris Miller, the president of APSCU, got up to talk about gainful employment regulations, a set of technical requirements proposed in July by the Department of Education. The proposed regulations would place restrictions on which programs can receive federal funding based on student debt loads and a debt-to-expected-earnings ratio. The purpose is to reduce the number of students with overwhelming student debt and channel federal financial aid to programs that are effective in training people for jobs. Miller insisted that these regulations would cut off access to programs and would "hurt veterans." [Disclosure: The advocacy arm of Campus Progress has submitted comments and testified before the Department of Education in support of the proposed regulations.]

APSCU has been one of the leading groups opposing the proposed gainful employment regulations. The group helped sponsor a rally on Capitol Hill in September with about 1,000 students from for-profit schools around the country to oppose the regulations. IAVA, the veterans group represented on last week’s panel, says it hasn't taken a position on the gainful employment regulations; its spokesperson offered no further comment on Embree's presence on APSCU's panel. Overall, veterans groups have largely remained silent on the gainful employment regulation issue.

But veterans groups should be very concerned with the issue. As noted, many veterans attend for-profit institutions. And recent investigations, including by the Government Accountability Office, the New York Times, and Dallas TV station WFAA, demonstrate that some for-profit programs engage in deceptive practices and leave many students deeply in debt and without marketable skills.

Bloomberg News recently discovered that Kaplan University sent a collection agency after Keith Melvin, a decorated and disabled veteran, for $4,125 when his federal grants didn't come through. The Bloomberg report shows that Kaplan aggressively recruited Melvin—even telling him he could lose his spot in the class even though Kapaln doesn't limit online enrollment.

According to data from the National Survey of Student Engagement compiled by APSCU, Kaplan University enrolls more than 1,500 students who claim Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. (University of Phoenix and DeVry University top the list, with 10, 872 and 4,428 students, respectively.)

Brian Hawthorne of the Student Veterans of America, a group that supports veterans in higher education, says his group doesn't have an official position on gainful employment regulations at this time, but, he wrote in an email to Campus Progress, SVA calls "on all schools, for-profits included, to closely examine their policies and programs to ensure that a student veteran has the greatest chance of success." "Online education can be a real asset to a service member or a veteran, as I know myself as I earned my Associates Degree online while in Iraq. Schools should be offering programs that fit the lives of their student veteran population, not pursuing them to increase their Federal Aid and then not supporting them through to graduation. This would not be acceptable at any type of school, not just for-profits."

In fact, as was a prevalent theme on last Wednesday's panel, nearly all higher education instructions offer some of its education in the form of distance-learning classes, whether public, private non-profit, or for-profit. Many for-profit schools also don't just have online classes. Kaplan, the school that was subject of the Bloomberg investigation, offers both online and in-person classes.

For now, prominent national veterans groups are staying away from the debate on gainful employment, which currently remains divided between the companies that own for-profit schools and student advocacy groups like U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), United States Students Association, and the advocacy arm of Campus Progress. Whether or not gainful employment regulations are put in place could affect a significant number of veterans. And if veterans' organizations speak out now, they could have a powerful impact on the debate.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Executive Director Goes to Work for Washington Lobbyist

My reporting on the timeline of Melanie Sloan's decision to go work for Washington lobbyist Lanny Davis: Read it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Links: High School Dating, Vagina Facials, and McDonald's No-Rot Hamburger Mythbusting

(Flickr/Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL))
  • Ah, high school dating. [Slate]
  • In many of the closest races across the nation, abortion turned out to be a winning issue. [Politico]
  • Um, anyone want to go get a vagina facial? [Harper's Bazaar]
  • The impact of the recession on reproductive health (audio). [Guttmacher Institute]
  • Top 10 ways to be a feminist in 2010. [Amy Andronicus]
  • Science confirms that gender makes no difference in math ability, so why do women "choose" not to go into math careers? And are they even actively making that choice? [Ms. Blog]
  • A lesbian student is kicked out of high school in Oklahoma because she lived with her girlfriend. [Change.org]
  • An academic discussion on abortion reveals that even academics can't agree. It might be time to change how we talk and think about this issue, writes Francis Kissling. [Salon]
  • How B-movie cliches are taking over comedy. [The Atlantic]
  • Why the elderly are more susceptible to financial scams. [Scientific American]
  • Remember that happy meal that wouldn't rot? Here's why that happened -- and why it's not just McDonald's that does that. [Serious Eats]

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Does the Wedding Industry Make Marriage Classist?

(Flickr/DanielaNob)

Time and Pew did a poll together they released today asking if marriage is obsolete. According to poll results, nearly 39 percent of Americans think so. As I wrote a while back, a related Pew study showed that the under-30 crowd was less married than it used to be. Today, the Time/Pew poll shows that "college graduates are now far more likely to marry (64%) than those with no higher education (48%)."

The Time story that relates the poll goes on to say that "the richer and more educated you are, the more likely you are to marry, or to be married — or, conversely, if you're married, you're more likely to be well off."

The idea of tying marriage to wealth isn't that surprising when you look at the wedding industry. Rebecca Mead, New Yorker writer, noted that back in 2003, the average cost of a wedding was $22,000. TheKnot.com, which has made itself an expert on the subject, says that the cost of a wedding is now is $27,800, but that "weddings cost more in large urban areas." (Keep in mind that you could buy a brand-new Prius for less that that.)

As weddings become more status-oriented and more costly, it makes sense that the less educated -- and therefore the less financially well off -- become less likely to see marriage as accessible to them. This has roughly been my problem with weddings all along, although I suppose I haven't been particularly articulate about it until now. If the standard for weddings becomes a Vera Wang dress, an ornate venue, and freshly imported flowers -- all amounting to that "one perfect day" -- then marriage itself begins to be viewed as an institution for those who can afford all those things.

Of course, not every couple has to do that, and many don't. Lots of couples elope at the court house and have a low-key celebration later on. But the trouble is that there aren't many options for folks that want something in between -- or at least, the wedding industry leaves you with the distinct impression that there isn't such an option. Not to mention that the standard wedding comes with plenty of sexist traditions, from the bachelor/bachelorette parties to the father "giving the bride away" to the bouquet toss for single ladies.

I also have a problem with placing so much emphasis on the wedding itself, as if it were unrelated to marriage. Lots of people seem to think more intensely about the color of their bridesmaid dresses than what constitutes a good long-term partnership. I've talked to so many women who have elaborate plans about their wedding day even when they aren't currently in a partnership. The idea that the wedding doesn't factor the groom/husband into such plans at all -- to the point that the groom's face is fill-in-the-blank in most women's fantasies about that one perfect day -- is more than a little disturbing to me.

Ultimately, in my mind, folks should be contemplating what they want in a lifelong partnership and then, when they meet someone suitable for this arrangement, begin to plan making that partnership legal and official in a way that makes sense for both of them. Oh yeah, and it shouldn't cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Disappointment on Fair Pay

(Flickr/liewcf)

Today the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would have amended federal labor law to strengthen current labor law against pay discrimination on the basis of sex, failed in the Senate by a vote of 58-41. As Shelby Knox said on Twitter today, "#FairPay will likely fail because of 2 women, Sens Snowe & Collins. Lesson: elect pro-equality candidates of both genders, both parties." The disappointment among the feminist community is palpable.

But I'm not actually all that surprised the legislation failed. It has been covered very little in the mainstream press. Since the Nov. 2 elections, just 58 news stories in Lexis Nexis mentioned the Paycheck Fairness Act. By contrast, 220 articles mentioned the DREAM Act, 950 stories mentioned the potential repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," and more than 1,000 news stories mentioned the Bush tax cuts. In other words, the press just didn't see this legislation as worthy of news coverage.

After a rough year for women's rights organizations, many hoped that the Paycheck Fairness Act would be a victory -- and a bipartisan one at that. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which aimed to allow women greater time to sue for lost wages due to discrimination, passed earlier this year and was favored by Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). Not this time.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

American Women Need More Than Advice to 'Be More Dutch'

(Flickr/lapstrake)

Jessica Olien over at Slate has been in the Netherlands for three months. After carefully studying some statistics, she has decided that feminists had it all wrong, and that we should give up on feminism and just be Dutch.

Though the Netherlands is consistently ranked in the top five countries for women, less than 10 percent of women here are employed full-time. And they like it this way. Incentives to nudge women into full-time work have consistently failed. Less than 4 percent of women wish they had more working hours or increased responsibility in the workplace, and most refuse extended hours even when the opportunity for advancement arises. Some women cite the high cost of child care as a major factor in their shorter hours, but 62 percent of women working part time in the Netherlands don't have young children in the house, and mothers rarely increase their working hours even when their children leave home.

It's hard not to wonder: Have we gotten it all wrong? In the United States, the race for equality has gone mostly in one direction. Women want to shatter the glass ceiling, reach the top spots in the hierarchy, and earn the same respect and salaries as men do. But perhaps this situation is setting us up for a world in which none of us is having any fun. After all, studies of female happiness in the U.S. find that even as our options have increased and we have become financially more independent than in any previous time in our history, American women as a whole are not getting any happier. If anything, the studies show that we are emotionally less well-off than we were before. Wasn't the whole point of the fight for equality in the workplace to improve our wellbeing?

The rest of her article goes on to speculate that American women are getting pushed to work more and achieve more while Dutch women seem to work less and be happier. While that might be true in the strictest interpretation of the data Olien presented there's a lot she's missing here.

First, though women in the Netherlands may "work less" than their American counterparts, she tends to gloss over the fact that the Dutch have a lot of policies that are helpful to women. In fact, the Netherlands has so many policies that help women out that its often the subject of study when it comes to family-friendly policies.

The chief reason full-time employment is the holy grail in America is that it's usually tied to health insurance. Not only does the Netherlands offers the best version of what American health care reform tried to do: Offer affordable health insurance but force everyone to buy into the system. Add on top of that generous child care subsidies, lengthly vacation time, and flexible working hours. If American women had these options in a way that wasn't tied to employment, there might not be such a rush for full-time employment here -- among women AND men. Granted, as Olien hints, the policies aren't perfect in the Netherlands, but they are leagues ahead of what's offered by the U.S. government. And, as Yglesias points out, while Dutch women do less work than their American counterparts, so do Dutch men.

Olien also doesn't acknowledge that America and the Netherlands are different in terms of demographics. Not only is there more disagreement about what the government owes women politically here, but this country is also much economically and demographically diverse than the Netherlands. A full 79.9 percent of the Netherlands is made up of ethnic Dutch (whites), while America is made up of 64 percent non-Hispanic white. The United states has a lot more people that are relatively poor -- this graph shows that while the Netherlands has only 8.1 percent of the population below the median income, in America it's 17 percent.

Perhaps it's poverty that's getting American women down, since recent studies show that among mothers especially poverty correlates highly with depression. Not to mention that depression treatments are less effective if you're poor and that you're more at risk for depression in the first place if you fall into a low socioeconomic class.

Fundamentally, Olien looks at the Dutch system and concludes that happiness and equality are inherently separate endeavors. But American feminists don't combat the pay gap because they think American women are unhappy. They do it because on average in America, if you're a white man, you will make more than everyone else, and that's fundamentally unfair. The gender essentialism in Olien's piece -- that all women are pressured to climb the corporate ladder but secretly want to pursue hobbies isn't even anecdotally true. I know lots of women that thrive on the high of a workaholic career drive and lots of women whose priorities lie more with their families. Women should have both the option to achieve highly in their careers and to stay at home to support families: Just like men do.

But for the vast majority of women who work in America, they do so not because it's a choice but because it's what they have to do to make ends meet. Setting up the difference between Dutch women and American women as simply choosing to work less isn't right.

I will give Olien credit for correctly identifying a phenomenon that is prevalent in America, perhaps best expressed by Courtney Martin, "We are the daughters of feminists who said, 'You can be anything' and we heard 'You have to be everything.'" But while this is a problem in America, it's often a problem most heavily complained about among the white, middle-class and upper-middle class woman who sighs at having to "do it all." That pressure is real, sure, but many women don't have the luxury to complain about it. Unfortunately too many women in America are just struggling to survive, pay their health insurance, and struggling to figure out what to do with no child care and no sick leave.

So forgive me if I can't muster the energy to sympathize with Olien in her campaign to make American women "more Dutch."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Complementarians Co-opt Feminism


This weekend the New York Times Sunday magazine had a piece called the "Housewives of God" about a new-ish movement of "complementarians" who exist within conservative and evangelical circles of Christianity. These folks believe that "Gender is not an act or a choice, but a nonnegotiable gift," as Molly Worthen, a writer that also works in Yale's religious studies department. In other words, the roles of men and women are not only different, but they're mandated by God, and there's nothing us humans can do about it.

The piece is focused on Priscilla Shirer, a successful teacher of Bible studies to conservative Christian women around the country. Shirer engages in a lot of gender essentialist language in her quotes throughout the piece -- "Being female, we’re emotional beings," for instance. Jill Filipovic over at Feministe does a great job with dissecting what's wrong with these gender binaries, so you should head over there and read what she has to say.

But what I thought was also interesting about the piece was the nature of how this "new brand" of conservative Christian femininity is predicated on stealing the notions of strong women from feminism -- all while steering its devotees away from the actual feminist movement. In fact, Worthen starts out with a description of how equitable Shirer's marriage seems to be. Her and her husband split child care responsibilities equally. The movement, Worthen notes, does its best to co-opt some of the key tenants of feminism.

The only way to defeat secular feminism was to assimilate it. Conservative evangelicals stressed women's equal merit and urged men to lead by servanthood and sacrifice, like Christ himself. Liberals and conservatives note that this theology is more enlightened than the opinion of women expressed by the ancient fathers of the church. For most of Christian history, theologians held to Aristotle’s view that a woman is essentially a defective man, inferior by nature — an argument that mortifies today’s complementarians. The modern conservative position “is soft patriarchalism,” says Alan Johnson, an emeritus professor at Wheaton College in Illinois and an egalitarian. “They still believe in male rule, but they have softened, compromised with contemporary culture by putting women on par with men.”

[...]

Conservative Bible teachers like Shirer have built a new paradigm for feminine preaching, an ingenious blend of traditional revivalism, modern therapeutic culture and the gabby intimacy of Oprah. This is the biblical-womanhood-industrial complex: a self-conscious alternative to secular feminism that preaches wifely submission while co-opting some feminist ideas to nurture women like Shirer to take the lead, within limits.

The reason this movement is so successful is precisely because it has taken advantage of the things that feminist activists have pushed forth for decades (or centuries, even). Shirer even talks about the fact that her marriage is so cooperative means she's lucky.
Despite this routine, Priscilla insists that she submits to Jerry — especially in the family’s bigger decisions. “If I will follow him as he’s following the Lord, then the responsibility for navigating our family well falls on him, not me,” she said. “Gratefully, I’m married to a husband that values my opinion and values my ideas. . . . We have lots of discussions, there are times of discontent.”
The implication of this quote seems to be that Shirer believes that if her husband wasn't so generous as to value her opinions and ideas, she'd just have gotten the short end of the stick from God and that she'd just have to put up with it. As Kathryn Joyce, the author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, reported for AlterNet, this line of thinking can be dangerous when the husband in question is abusive.

In the end, those who are part of the complementarian movement are part of a growing swell of conservative activists that are trying to co-opt some of the "strong women" characteristics of feminism to work toward a world where women have fewer rights and fall under control of their husbands and fathers. If anything, that speaks to the power of the feminist movement -- and its weaknesses. Hopefully women won't think they're lucky to be treated equally. Let's hope they demand it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saturday Craft Blogging: First Knitted Hat

For those of you that know me in real life, you'd know that I recently started to re-teach myself knitting. I tried to learn once when I was in middle school, once again in college, and finally picked it up again about a year ago. I knitted several scarfs, but this was the first time I'd tried knitting something that wasn't just a rectangular piece of fabric.

I used a fairly simple pattern that my sister and I found in the yarn store called Bella Lana in Northeast Minneapolis the last time I was home. Today I'm bringing it to my cousins' baby shower in New York. (I made the hat a light blue color even though they're having a girl because, quite frankly, I like blue better than pink!)

When I finished with the hat, it felt like it needed something, so I added a small pom pom to the top of the hat, which I found instructions for in my Stitch 'N Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook that I keep on hand for knitting troubleshooting.

I think it turned out all right, but I'd love to know how any other knitting experts out there deal with the diminishing amount of stitches as you get toward the top of the hat. I really struggled to keep the stitches from stretching out too much. Maybe the kind of circular needles I bought were too long?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Links: Gender Parity in Companies, Congress

(Flickr/Julia Roy)
  • Companies have failed on gender parity because they are focusing on women, not men. [Change This, via Geek Feminism Blog]
  • Suzy Khimm crunches the numbers on women's leadership in the GOP. Turns out it's not as awesome as reports of the "year of the woman" led us to believe. [Mother Jones]
  • Will the Obama administration actually move forward with the plan to classify birth control as preventative care? [The American Prospect]
  • Fashion bloggers might be revolutionizing fashion for the better. [Ms. Blog]
  • Surprised that Barbara Bush is pro-choice? Don't be. She -- and the rest of the Bush family -- have a long history of supporting family planning. [RH Reality Check]
  • You can now make Daria Morgendorffer the voice of your GPS. [NavTones]
  • A woman at Catholic Benedictine University was forced into early retirement for her same-sex wedding announcement. [Change.org]
  • Does running as a pro-choice candidate put you at an advantage? [Huffington Post]
  • What The Exorcist says about female sexuality. [Ms. Blog]
  • Judd Apatow defends his horrible female characters. [Jezebel]
  • Possibly the grossest thing you could make this Thanksgiving (and no, it's not a turdukin).[Chow]
  • Walk a mile in Lady Gaga's shoes? [Stylelist]

Interviewing Jenn Pozner on Reality TV

Today over at The American Prospect I have an interview with media critic Jenn Pozner, whose new book, Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV, calls out some of the worst racism and sexism in the genre of reality television:

Which are the worst offenders when it comes to sexism?

It's a toss-up -- is it better or worse when shows package themselves as sincere or when the sexism is totally overt? A show like The Bachelor is the longest-running dating show. We've had 20 seasons of the franchise, 14 bachelors and six bachelorettes. The packaging is all about this earnest quest for true love, where every girl wants to be a princess and every boy is Prince Charming, you know, as long as he's wealthy and has a firm ass. The only way to be successful, the only way to be happy, the only way to be financially or personally fulfilled or secure is by glomming on to any guy that will have you. The framing, though, is this mock earnestness.

Compare that with something like Joe Millionaire on Fox or Flavor of Love on VH1, where the premise itself is done with sort of a wink and a nod to viewers. We're supposed to, on the surface, understand that the women are gold diggers, or that the women are stupid and bimbos, and we're supposed to laugh at them. But because it's done with a wink and a nod, there's also a chance that people might not be taking it as seriously as people take a show like The Bachelor. They play out in different ways, the level of sexism.

Read it all here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why Insert Racism and Sexism into 'The Walking Dead'?

There are few shows I was more excited about this year than The Walking Dead. A television show about the zombie apocalypse? Sign me up.

I know I'm coming a bit late to talking about the series, since it's already a third of the way over, and Shani already talked about how The Walking Dead went from its first episode filled with tension and methodical pacing to throwing a bunch of new characters at us all at once -- including racist Merle Dixon. As Shani notes, the character of Merle isn't in the comic books and his racism has an almost cartoonish element.

I can appreciate that The Walking Dead doesn't want to be a shot-for-shot adaptation of the comic book to the screen. The creators likely want to draw from the comic books but also create their own world. That's understandable. But the things that they've added to the story thus far are some bizarre choices.

At the opening of the first episode, Shane (played by Jon Bernthal) starts with a long misogynistic rant about how women are genetically incapable of turning off the lights. Rick (played by Andrew Lincoln) listens patiently through the rant and notes that his wife doesn't seem to have trouble with the light switches in their house.

The funny thing is that this exchange isn't in the comic books, and I can't figure out exactly what the motivation is to add it in. Perhaps it serves to make us dislike Shane more, since later in the episode we discover he and Rick's wife began an affair when they thought Rick was dead.

But it's also possible that the creators of The Walking Dead wanted to make the characters in show (and the people in it) more like caricatures of people living in the South. They seemed to add a bit more racism and sexism than the original comic called for -- I guess to make it more, uh, believable? I'd be interested to learn what the creators' motivations were here, since I can't really figure it out beyond the notion of adding more racism and sexism is par for the course when it comes to Hollywood.

I have to say, though, if they were looking to explore dynamics with Southern white supremacists, they should have just looked to Justified, which seems to have pulled it off a lot better. The white supremacist in that show, Boyd Crowder (played by Walton Goggins) keeps the audience guessing as to exactly what his motivations are for staying a part of the white supremacist movement.

Still, I'm excited to see the remaining four episodes of this season of The Walking Dead and next season as well. Hopefully they're planning to do something interesting with the elements they added instead of just adding more racism and sexism into the mix for the sake of it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Pay Gap in Academia

Last week the National Center for Education Statistics at the Department of Education released its "Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2009, and Salaries of Full-Time Instructional Staff, 2009-10" report [PDF], which offers statistics on employment in higher education.

There's a lot in the report that isn't too surprising from a gender perspective, but I will note two things. First, women are starting to make inroads among universities by achieving more full professorships than the last time they conducted the study (in the 2003-2004 school year).
More men than women were employed as professors at 4-year institutions between 2003-04 and 2009-10 ... However, during this period, the percentage change in the number of professors was higher for women. For example, the number of men at public institutions decreased by 4 percent while the number of women increased by 24 percent; at private not-for-profit institutions, the number of men increased by 1 percent and the number of women increased by 26 percent; and at private for-profit institutions, the number of men increased by 50 percent while the number of women increased by 73 percent.
The second thing is that there's still a pay gap between what men and women earn in pretty much every instructor level at pretty much every type of school. (One notable exception is that women out-earn men at the lecturer level at 2-year private non-profits, but that could be because there are so few schools that the sample size is skewed. Of course, if others have insight to offer on this point I'd love to hear it.)

The biggest pay gaps occur at the professor level at public, 4-year colleges and universities and private, non-profit 4-year colleges and universities, which are both most likely to be research universities. Based on my previous reporting on women in academia, this doesn't surprise me much at all. Though some of this pay gab can be attributed to both blatant and subtle sexism, there are some institutional reasons why the pay gap appears most prominently at research universities.

The data doesn't do a breakdown by discipline, and men are more likely to dominate the higher-paying professorships at research universities in math, science, and technology. The reasons research universities often give for the premium of paying a physicist more than, say, an English literature professor, is that these people are most likely to be lost to the lucrative private industry.

Many women on the professor track -- especially those in the the "hard sciences" -- find the demand of achieving tenure to be challenging. If a woman is planning to have children at all, the time in her life when she is supposed to be publishing lots of prestigious research and looking toward tenure is around the same time many women are looking to start families.

A few women I've spoken with have gotten around this by not having children or waiting until after they raise children to go into academia. But the pressure of child-raising, so long as it disproportionately falls on women, tends to directly conflict with the timely many aspiring professors must adhere to if they want tenure.

But I'll let the numbers speak for themselves. Below are breakdowns by overall salary differences for men and women as well as broken down by career type (complete with graphs).

Overall
  • Public, 4-year institution: Men $83,379, women $67,878;
  • Public, 2-year institution: Men $62,298, women $60,020;
  • Private, non-profit, 4-year institution: Men $85,087, women $69,448;
  • Private, non-profit, 2-year institution: Men $39,333, women $46,037;
  • Private, for-profit, 4-year institution: Men $45,790, women $44,397;
  • Private, for-profit, 2-year institution: Men $37,660, women $36,155
Professor
  • Public, 4-year institution: Men $108,104, women $95,942;
  • Public, 2-year institution: Men $73,169, women $69,487;
  • Private, non-profit, 4-year institution: $113,639, women $99,454;
  • Private, non-profit, 2-year institution: Men $55,028, women $51,510;
  • Private, for-profit, 4-year institution: Men $58,642, women $54,772;
  • Private, for-profit, 2-year institution: Men $40,849, women $46,537.

Associate professor
  • Public, 4-year institution: Men $77,873, women $72,867;
  • Public, 2-year institution: Men $60,973, women $59,341;
  • Private, non-profit, 4-year institution: $76,635, women $71,875;
  • Private, non-profit, 2-year institution: Men $45,040, women $48,871;
  • Private, for-profit, 4-year institution: Men $52,658, women $55,139;
  • Private, for-profit, 2-year institution: Men $39,454, women $39,680.

Assistant professor
  • Public, 4-year institution: Men $77,873, women $72,867;
  • Public, 2-year institution: Men $60,973, women $59,341;
  • Private, non-profit, 4-year institution: $76,635, women $71,875;
  • Private, non-profit, 2-year institution: Men $45,040, women $48,871;
  • Private, for-profit, 4-year institution: Men $52,658, women $55,139;
  • Private, for-profit, 2-year institution: Men $39,454, women $39,680.

Instructor
  • Public, 4-year institution: Men $47,600, women $45,591;
  • Public, 2-year institution: Men $64,855, women $63,069;
  • Private, non-profit, 4-year institution: $47,472, women $46,878;
  • Private, non-profit, 2-year institution: Men $36,535, women $45,645;
  • Private, for-profit, 4-year institution: Men $43,029, women $40,726;
  • Private, for-profit, 2-year institution: Men $37,608, women $35,682.
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