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


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. []
  • 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?


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., 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


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'


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. []
  • 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).

  • 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
  • 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.

  • 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.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On the 'It Gets Better' Campaign -- And Reactions to It

Ann Friedman and Gabriel Arana over at The American Prospect are taking issue with the direction that the "It Gets Better" campaign has taken. Arana takes issue with the idea that straight "B-list" celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Ezra Klein are making "It Gets Better" videos that seem to miss the whole point of the campaign: Talking about the problem with bullying that targets LGBT youth. [Disclosure: I consider Klein a friend.] Arana's point is really important, and one that I've been thinking about a lot over the course of this campaign. Particularly this part:

It's not just the schoolyard jerk who picks on you. It's the pastor who rails against the "gay agenda" on Sunday, the parent who stands up at a city council meeting and says he moved to your city because it's "the kind of place that would never accept the GLBT community with open arms," and politicians like New York's would-be governor Carl Paladino, who on the campaign trail said things like "there is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual." Even once you get past high school, you still can't get married or serve in the military, and in most states, your employer can fire you just for being gay. This is the kind of "bullying" gay kids face, and it's the kind no one's standing up to.

If anything, the responses of educators and policy-makers seem designed to illustrate that, for gay teens, it often doesn't get better.

After all, just last month the New York Daily News reported that a gay cop in the 103rd Precinct in Queens faced "relentless anti-homosexual hostility on the job." And we still have no federal employment protections in place for LGBT folks.

That was my main problem with the "It Gets Better" campaign at the outset. After all Dan Savage certainly faced bullying in the past, but he's also reasonably wealthy and lives in a gay-friendly city. (I listen to Savage's podcast regularly.) Not everyone can have his fairy-tale life (or at least, the fairy tale he presented in his video). His video, like those of Kardashian's and Klein's, ring somewhat hallow to the ears of those that struggle with discrimination, not just on the LGBT front, but also when it comes to other components of identity. Savage comes from privilege as a white, wealthy gay man living in Seattle. Savage's outlook seems to be that homophobic elements of culture will never change, or at least, that we shouldn't bother with trying to change it, thus, the fairy tale escapism story. Incidentally Savage's advice continues to be to tell gay youth in rural gay-unfriendly areas to get out and run to a city that's more accepting of gay rights. Not much of an advocate for changing the culture there.

But there are a couple of things missing from the discussion. First of all, one point that needs to be addressed if we're talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer teen suicides, we also need to talk about mental illness. That's harder to parse because causes of mental illness are complex and mostly unknown. That's not to excuse bullying in these instances at all -- but it is important to acknowledge that what's going on here when it comes to suicide is complicated and can't be blamed totally on bullying. After all, not all LGBTQ people commit or attempt suicide and not all suicides are committed or attempted by LGBTQ folks. Unfortunately, the issue is more complicated than just blaming bullying -- though curbing bullying can certainly help.

Secondly, I understand how hollow the words of straight people who go off topic of the problem of LGBT bullying and make it about their own problems with not fitting in sound. But if we're going to critique straight people when they weigh in on the subject (I also identify as straight), then we need to give guidance to how they can help. The very reason I haven't written about this campaign up to this point is that I felt I wasn't "qualified" because my experience as a straight person didn't fit in with the narrative of the campaign. But where do straight people fit in? That has never been a clear part of the discussion.

To me, this echoes other discussions that minority groups get into about outside allies trying to get into the game: With feminists, they sometimes argue men (particularly straight men) aren't qualified to weigh in on the subject of discrimination or sexism because they've never experienced it. I tend to fall on the side of involving men in feminism -- even at the risk of them saying something that isn't quite right -- is worth it because I don't see how we change some of these institutional problems without men.

But the discussion around LGBTQ bullying is really hard to talk about as a straight person because I feel that there's little I can do in my daily life, except show support to the LGBTQ people in my life and vote for candidates who promise to support LGBTQ policies (even if they don't follow through on it). Friedman reflected this disappointment when said:

Obama's "It Gets Better" video, on the other hand, is primarily an anti-bullying public service announcement -- about as politically risky as decrying people who kick puppies or steal old ladies' handbags. In a message directed toward kids who feel constantly threatened, Obama chooses the safe path. He tells gay teens to stay strong and that "there is a whole world waiting for you, filled with possibilities" -- which is true, unless they aspire to marriage, parenthood, or a career in military service. Indeed, within days of posting the president's "It Gets Better" video, the Obama administration announced it would be reinstating "don't ask, don't tell" after a recent court ruling that ordered the military to stop enforcing the policy. Obama may want things to get better for LGBT teens, but he is not working to ensure that they do.

I can understand why Obama's response was frustrating to many in the LGBTQ community, precisely because of the administration's stalling on important and politically popular actions like repealing "don't ask, don't tell," pushing for more employment protections for LGBTQ folks, or showing support for same-sex marriage.

Arana echoes that sentiment in his disappointment with the Department of Education, which responded to the "It Gets Better" campaign with a memo clarifying that discrimination against LGBTQ students should be included with the types of discrimination that are banned by federal law -- even as they acknowledged that there are no laws in place that back up their stance. Arana thinks the Department of Education and Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan didn't go far enough in talking about LGBTQ youth and the problems they face.

There's certainly enough blame to go around. And both Friedman and Arana make the point that what is actually needed instead of a video campaign -- as well intentioned as it is -- is to change some of the institutional problems that lead to the othering of LGBTQ folks in the first place. That I can't disagree with, whether I'm qualified to comment on the subject or not.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mental Health Counseling on Abortions

This Sunday there was a really excellent op-ed in the Washington Post called "The big lie about abortion and mental health" by Brenda Major, who is a professor of psychology at the University of California–Santa Barbara and a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.

Major argues:

In the past few years, under the banner of "a woman's right to know," a number of states have passed laws mandating that women seeking abortions be told that going ahead with the procedure would expose them to mental health risks, including post-traumatic stress and a greater danger of suicide.

Such warnings might sound like a good idea. The decision to terminate a pregnancy can be difficult, and some women end up regretting it. It's commendable to help women make an informed choice. But an informed choice requires accurate information. And these laws mandate that women be misled.

Rigorous U.S. scientific studies have not substantiated the claim that abortion, compared with its alternatives, causes an increased incidence of mental health problems.

As Guttmacher Institute detailed in a report [PDF] released this month, there are 18 states that mandate some kind of counseling before a woman may obtain an abortion. Such counseling includes at least one of the following claims:

And now, after last Tuesday's elections, states around the country have elected the most anti-choice state legislators than they have in 80 years. It's extremely likely these legislatures will begin passing legislation that targets women seeking abortions, going further than they already have. Some of the most anti-choice legislation in the last year has come out of Oklahoma, which has just elected Mary Fallin. Fallin boasted of her 100 percent rating from Oklahomans For Life on her campaign website.

Jamelle talked earlier today about the fact that many state budgets will simply dig themselves deeper into financial hardship through state budget cuts, but it's important to remember that states will also be busy passing much socially conservative legislation as well. If you're a woman seeking an abortion, it's likely access to that service will become a lot more limited now.

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