Monday, January 31, 2011

Superman -- the Most Famous Illegal Alien Ever?


News comes that the title character of the new Superman reboot will be played by British actor Henry Cavill, star of the Showtime series The Tudors. In fact, of the three major reboots of major comic book characters in the works, all of the title characters will be played by Brits.

The reaction among some comic fans has been aghast, especially since Superman is generally considered the quintessentially American superhero (that is, considered that way generally by white, male comic book characters who look pretty demographically similar to Superman himself). In fact, if you have some time, you should read this award-winning student paper (PDF) on how comic books in the stretch between the Great Depression and the Cold War change to adapt to American ideals that are popular at the time.

But it's important to remember that Superman, while very representative of Americans in certain ways, might be even more representative than you might think: After all, Superman was an illegal immigrant -- one of the 9.3 million estimated to be living in the United States today. These days, he wouldn't even qualify for in-state tuition.

Update/Correction: The illustrious Dara Lind, who knows a lot more about immigration than I do, points out that the number of undocumented folks I grabbed is from 2004. The actual number these days is closer to 11 million.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Links: Stop Sitting on Your Fortune!

(Flickr/J. Star)
  • Are Italian women literally sitting on their fortunes? No. Also, stop being so gross, Italian newspaper. [Bust]
  • A documentary shown at Sundance this year cribs inspiration from Rebecca Traister's work on women in politics. Miss Representation is a film about the objectification of women in media and political activism. [LA Times]
  • The doggie bag traces back to ancient Rome. [Food & Think]
  • Via Dara Lind, the account of a woman who decided to have an abortion after her husband had been deported. [The Asylumist]
  • Props to Jessica Wakeman for documenting the painful experience of moving out after a breakup. [The Frisky]
  • Pema Levy tells us that there might be a small chance the Equal Rights Amendment can still pass. Maybe. [The American Prospect]
  • Why aren't there more women in comedy? This writer for argues that not enough women try. [Split Sider]
  • Stop. Are you pregnant? Are you pre-pregnant? Are you sure? [Ms. Blog]
  • Maybe it's because I'm from Minnesota, but I could not stop laughing while reading this parody of the Tiger Mother column. [The Hairpin]

Why You Can't Prove 'Forced Rape' Easily

I have a post over at TAPPED today in which I talk about Nick Baumann's reporting on the GOP's efforts to redefine rape as "forced rape" in the proposed "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion" bill.

I'll just add that rape has never really been a good "reason" for abortion anyway. The idea behind exceptions to banning abortion in various ways (or, in this case banning federal funds from going anywhere near abortion care) is somewhat bogus anyway, and really seeks to get folks who otherwise would oppose such bans to support them. It's really nice to think that women who are raped, victims of incest, or women whose health is in danger will still have access to abortion (or in this case, funding for abortion), but the reality is that most women wouldn't have access to abortion even if these circumstances did apply to them.

If you're petitioning to get funding for abortion because you fall under the list of exceptions, you have to prove in some way that you've been a victim of rape -- a high barrier already, since RAINN estimates that over 60 percent of all rapes are never reported to the police. Furthermore, simply reporting a rape doesn't necessarily mean that it would be weighed as strong enough evidence, and just 6 percent of all rapists ever serve time in jail.

Now, with the GOP seeking to redefine rape as "forced rape" -- a term that doesn't exist in any legal code whatsoever and is more on the level of Whoopi Goldberg's term "rape rape" -- and, should the bill ever pass (though hopefully the Senate and President Barack Obama have the good sense to block such an absurd piece of legislation) women would have to prove not only that a rape took place but that she was forcibly raped. How, exactly, is a woman supposed to prove that? And meanwhile, while a woman is busy trying to prove she was "forcibly raped," the pregnancy carries further along, making it more dangerous to end.

Either abortion is legal, or abortion isn't legal. The rest is moral judgments up to individuals to decide. Just because "exceptions" to an abortion funding ban exist doesn't mean they won't work out in the worst possible way for women in practice.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Abortion Doesn't Hurt Women's Mental Health, But Babies Might


The anti-choice movement has been putting forth this notion that abortion is difficult or emotionally traumatizing for women. This has become the "abortion hurts women" line of argument among the anti-choice community, and one that has been thoroughly debunked by Reva Segal and Sarah Blustain in a 2006 American Prospect piece (as well as a more recent piece in the Jan/Feb issue of Mother Jones by Blustain, which isn't yet online).

A recent study written about by the Associated Press today not only confirms that abortion doesn't result in mental problems, but suggests that having a baby actually might.

The Danish study included 365,550 teenagers and women who had an abortion or first-time delivery between 1995 and 2007. None had a history of psychiatric problems that required hospitalization. Through various national registries, researchers were able to track mental health counseling at a hospital or outpatient facility before and after an abortion or delivery.

During the study period, 84,620 had an abortion while 280,930 gave birth.

Researchers compared the rate of mental health treatment among women before and after a first abortion. Within the first year after an abortion, 15 per 1,000 women needed psychiatric counseling – similar to the rate seeking help nine months before an abortion.

Researchers say women who seek abortions come from a demographic group more likely to have emotional problems to begin with. Statistics show that a large percentage struggle economically and they have above-average rates of unintended pregnancies.

While first-time mothers had a lower rate of mental problems overall, the proportion of those seeking help after giving birth was dramatically higher. About 7 per 1,000 women got mental health help within a year of giving birth compared with 4 per 1,000 women pre-delivery.

Much of this doesn't surprise me. After all, having a baby is hard. One's body changes dramatically over the course of the pregnancy and, unless you give the child up for adoption, you're likely to encounter increased mental, emotional, and financial stress that compounds as you care for a newborn child.

This isn't to knock motherhood inherently. Most women find the undertaking extraordinarily rewarding and remarkable. But it's hard to deny that having children increases stress. Instead of caring for oneself, you' have to care for an additional (and quite helpless) human being. It is not something one should undertake lightly. There are real effects that motherhood has on your mental and physical health.

So let's drop the "abortion hurts women" narrative. The science just isn't there.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Guest Blogging at TAPPED This Week

Hey, I'm guest blogging at TAPPED this week! Check out what I've written so far:
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Factors of an Unintended Pregnancy


The journal Sexual Health recently published a study on unintended pregnancy. According to the study's abstract, 51 percent of women who reported an unintended pregnancy went on to experience at least one other unintended pregnancy.

Other factors also contributed to multiple unintended pregnancies: one's race (women who are black or Hispanic are more likely to experience multiple unintended pregnancies), having been born to a mother who was under 18 when she gave birth, and young age of first sexual experience (whether consensual or not).

The abstract didn't disclose whether any of these factors coincided with income or insurance coverage. I'd be interested to see how those factors stack up.

'The Kids Are All Right' and Missed Opportunities

(Focus Features)

It seems the Oscar nominations are out today. I've seen seven of the 10 nominees thus far, including The Kids Are All Right, which I had a chance to finally watch last night. (No spoilers except what you've seen in the trailer.)

I was ultimately disappointed by this film, which is I suppose what happens when you see a film that's been hyped for as Oscar-bait so long after it's been out. My main complaint with the film was that all of the characters felt like flat stereotypes to me -- except for Mark Ruffalo's character, Paul. Paul was, in many ways, the character with the most depth, whereas both Julianne Moore and Annette Bening's characters came of mostly as stereotypes of a lesbians (the exchange about the Joni Mitchell record is what did it for me). Bening's character comes off as a villain for much of the film, and Moore's character, while at first we feel sorry for her, she does ultimately betray her entire family.

But even though Ruffalo has the most interesting role to play, the film offers little in the way of resolution for his character. Instead, his character feels like a red herring, and we're actually supposed to focus on the family portrayed, which would work, expect there's been little in the way of realistic character development with any of them.

Ultimately, this film to me felt like a missed opportunity. It's not uncommon for couples -- especially lesbian couples, since women's sexuality sometimes fluctuates over time (keep in mind I'm not saying this is true of all women) -- to begin to want and need different things sexually over the course of the relationship. After all, sexuality is complex and long-term relationships go through changes over time. The combination of those two things in the film's setup should have made for a fascinating means for delving into those ideas. But the way Moore's character went about that exploration, through betrayal rather than an open discussion with her partner, instead makes the show more like a traditional story about a family that goes through an affair.

The movie didn't quite do it for me. But it's still great to see a film about an LGBT family nominated for an Oscar.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Impossiblity of Legislating Morality in the Wake of the Kermit Gosnell Case


When I first learned of the alleged actions of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the doctor accused of causing the death of a woman and illegally performing late-term procedures that induced labor and killed the fetus, my heart sank. Not only did I feel for the women who encountered these allegedly horrifying procedures (which are illegal even in states with laws friendlier to late-term abortions), but I knew such a sensational news story would renew the vigor of the anti-choice movement, and nudge even moderate people (and there are many when it comes to abortion, despite what the devisive rhetoric might lead you to believe) toward putting limitations on abortion in the final trimester.

Will Saletan is one such moderate person. In a piece today in Slate, he acknowledges many of the points pro-choice advocates have made in response to his horror at the Gosnell case. These things -- that early abortion is better than late abortion, that efforts to delay abortions only result in women more desperate to seek abortion -- are all true, he says, but he ends with a question:

Contraception or abstinence is best, emergency contraception is next best, early abortion is next best, and we should make these options more accessible, not less. But we'll still be left with some women who, for no medical reason, have run out the clock, even to the point of viability. Should their abortion requests be granted anyway?

Pema Levy over at TAPPED puts up an excellent defense, noting that the ultimately trusts women to make those imporant decisions.

I agree with Levy, but I would only add that the question Saletan is asking is a moral one. It is, of course, a very important one for individuals to discuss and think about, especially when considering his or her own views on the complex issue of abortion, but it is a hard question to incorporate into a policy debate. While Saletan might feel personally that 29 weeks is the limit for women to obtain an abortion, an equally reasonable person might come to a different moral conclusion. So who's point of view do we use to decide policy?

Any time you attempt to legislate morality, it seems to backfire in the worst possible ways, and abortion is no exception. The very best thing one can do is legislate policy that do the least harm to the most number of people while still aligning with society's general guidelines for what is acceptable. This is yet another difficult standard, but if you focus on doing the least amount of harm, then the best policy is to make abortions -- a medical procedure that is dangerous when done improperly -- as safe and as accessible as possible throughout a pregnancy.

As Levy writes:

If a woman decides to have a late-term abortion, which often means traveling across state lines and spending a lot of money to have it done or submitting to a complicated procedure at a shady clinic like Dr. Gosnell's patients did, then they are obviously making a very serious decision because they feel having an abortion is what they need. Maybe their decision is financial, maybe their marriage has become abusive, and maybe she's a bad, fickle person. But being pro-choice means having the strong belief that women's bodies should not be used in any way against their will.
To do otherwise is to encourage the existance of pracitces like Gosnell's.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

On the Anniversary of Roe v. Wade


Today is the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade. Some may not have realized at the time, but the years following that decision saw the safest and most accessible abortion America would ever see. Today, we have the Hyde amendment, which leaves millions of poor women with limited choices; state laws that continue to chip away at access; and now, Congress has proposed a law that seeks to further limit funding for abortion.

In many ways women are more equal and free than they were in those days following the Roe decision. But when it comes to access to abortion, in many ways, women are still embroiled in a political battle for their rights.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Links: The Swanson Pyramid of Greatness

  • Do romance novels hurt women? [Bitch Magazine]
  • Amanda Terkel reports that a high-level military panel says the ban on women in combat is discriminatory. [Huffington Post]
  • DIY abortions are becoming more popular. [Slate]
  • Living with an STD certainly comes with stigma, but as this author writes, you can get through it. [Salon]
  • Via Jill at Feministe, this in-depth piece on the foreskin restoration movement is fascinating. [The Good Men Project Magazine]
  • An imagined conversation in which Robyn converts Katy Perry to feminism. [Ann Friedman]
  • The way people argue on Facebook. [Shakesville]
  • Foodies are everywhere these days, but is that a good thing? Lisa Bramen argues it is. [Food & Think]
  • Parks and Rec is back. Here's the Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness. You're welcome. [Anywhere But Nowhere]

Anti-Choice Legislation in the States

I have an interview with Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, over at The American Prospect today on upcoming anti-choice state legislation. Check it out.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Do For-Profit Schools Help in the Health Care Industry?


Today Campus Progress’ parent organization, the Center for American Progress, released a report (PDF) and held a panel discussion that examined the needs of the job market in the growing health care industry and its relationship to for-profit schools that offer programs to train students for this industry. The report carefully examined some of the needs of the health care industry and how for-profit schools could help fill that need. But the report found that the for-profit industry falls short of fulfilling the greatest needs in health care.

Most notably, nursing is an extremely high-demand industry. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics projections of job openings in the health care industry, registered nurses will have the highest demand in the next ten years, with a need for more than 1 million new registered nurses projected. Two factors contribute to the increase in the number of jobs needed in the nursing industry: the Affordable Care Act will increase coverage for an estimated 30 million Americans, requiring more medical professionals overall; and aging baby boomers who need more medical care will require more labor-intensive nursing care over time.

“But for-profit schools contribute relatively few nursing graduates to the field,” the report says. For profits graduated roughly 150,000 students in registered nursing (RN), but this supply is still only 7 percent of the total number of degrees awarded in nursing. A licensed practical nurse or (LPN) or nursing aid might be a good candidate for advancing through an RN program, but for-profits also only graduate a small proportion of LPN students. Non-profit schools still supply the vast majority of both LPN (80 percent) and nursing aid (89 percent) students.

This could be because nursing is a highly intensive and expensive training program and many for-profit schools, with an eye on the bottom line, target more online-only and less labor intensive programs. In fact, in the medical industry, for-profit schools graduate the highest number of students in the medical assistant field, training nearly 88 percent of medical assistants in this country. These are entry-level administrative jobs that have a relatively low demand in health care job projections when compared with high-need fields of nursing and home health care.

The second highest number of health related for-profit students, 10 percent, participate in massage therapy programs, a low demand profession.

But the bigger issue with for-profit schools isn’t just a mismatch between the programs for-profits offer and the demands of the growing health care industry. There’s some evidence to suggest that some schools advertise their programs with promises of high salary, career advancement, and flexible training schedules.

But while some for-profit schools do a good job of helping graduates advance professionally, students sometimes discover only after completing a program that their training wasn’t properly accredited and they are therefore unable to sit for the required licensing exam. Other students take on far more debt than they can realistically pay back on a medical assistant salary, which is typically in the neighborhood of $30,000 to $35,000. Job advancement is less certain, usually based more on on-the-job experience and willingness to pursue more higher education. Furthermore, some training programs require clinical training, which is less flexible and doesn’t lend itself to distance learning. [Full disclosure: Campus Progress’ advocacy arm supports regulations that would increase accountability of for-profit programs. In addition, this author has written pieces critical of the for-profit education industry in the past.]

The CAP report offers several recommendations, including offering more incentives to for-profit schools to offer high-demand career training. Federal grants intended to incentivize training in science and technology should also include incentives for training high-need health care fields, the report recommends.

The report also advises for-profit schools to offer better career counseling so students are aware of which industries are in highest demand; as well as to provide students with statistical information about the quality of the program (like default rates on loans and job placement) at least 10 days before a student enrolls in classes. But providing good information so students can make better choices may not be enough.

“I always get wary when we talk about student choice,” said Kevin Kinser, a professor at the University of Albany who studies for-profit and career college programs, at the CAP event. “For most students there isn’t much of a choice.” He mentioned that students are often choosing between one or two schools in the geographic area that offer programs they are interested in.

There are, of course, ways that for-profit schools are in a good position to provide needs in the health care industry. Jeff Strohl, director of research at the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce, pointed out that for-profits might have the flexibility to offer re-training and on-the-job credentialing instruction. As the health care industry becomes more regulated, he says, there will be a greater need for employees keeping licenses up to date. “People need to take certification tests again and again,” Strohl said. For profit schools could help fill that need.

Still, the report makes clear that there are challenges that the for-profit industry and the regulators at the Department of Education need to meet to align students more closely with the demands of a growing industry. Students need not just good information, but good programs to make appropriate choices about higher education.

Cross posted.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

‘Portlandia’ Edges into ‘Stuff White People Like’ Territory


If Stuff White People Like were a television show, it would be Portlandia. The show, which stars former Saturday Night Live comedian Fred Armisen and Sleater-Kinney-co-founder-turned-music-commentator Carrie Brownstein, is airing on the Independent Film Channel and is set in—you guessed it—Portland. And what better place to set a series that mocks mostly white, urban, liberal culture than one of the whitest cities in America?

There’s been much debate about what, if anything, constitutes white culture. But it does seem clear that there is just as much a stereotype of white liberal culture as there is of white conservative culture. As much as we imagine the average white social conservative to be an SUV-driving, megachurch-attending, McDonald’s-eating, GOP-voting, Wal-Mart-shopping white person, we also imagine the average social liberal to be a yoga-doing, farmers-market-shopping, arugula-eating, library-card-holding, bike-riding, latte-sipping, liberal-blog-reading white person. [Full disclosure: This last weekend I attended a yoga class, checked books out form my local library, and stopped in at a store that specializes in local meat and dairy. I also have been known to occasionally nibble on arugula and pursue the occasional liberal blog.]

The shorthand for this stereotype is often “hipster” or “aging hipster”—someone with enough time and money to update a Tumblr and form opinions about the latest indie rock band while Tweeting about it incessantly. If you need further help on this concept, feel free to browse the archive of the New York Times style section. Of course, there are urban liberals that are non-white (incidentally an idea the Times style section also delved into). The reality is, of course, much more complex than that: Not all that partake in hipster culture are white; not all whites are hipsters. But for all of the complexities, these stereotypes still exist—the culture typified in Portlandia is indeed predominantly white.

And Portlandia isn’t afraid to mock such culture. The pilot episode, which has been getting some love from sites such as Videogum (itself highly beloved among hipsters), features a musical number titled “The Dream of the ‘90s Is Alive in Portlandia” that skewers urban white liberals who seem to never work. This is perhaps a bit of a sore spot since unemployment is 9.4 percent nationally and Oregon’s is slightly above that, at 10.5 percent. One skit even features a cameo from Boardwalk Empire star Steve Buscemi (which also features issues of Bitch magazine in the background). Urban liberals might find some of the actions of the characters uncomfortably familiar.

Of course, the show, for all its comedic gems, opens up larger questions about what kind of race-based mockery is acceptable. Indeed, people had issues with Stuff White People Like for that very reason. Even mocking white people on the basis of race is still problematic because it more mocked a specific subset of urban culture and class than it did white people specifically. Portlandia suffers from many of the same problems. It is written by, produced by, and stars white people of a certain class. There are a few non-whites in the ensemble scenes and they may bring in non-white comedians/comediennes down the road, but by and large, Portlandia is a show made for white people by white people. That’s not to say non-whites can’t or don’t watch the show and enjoy it, but the show definitely comes from a specific perspective of urban, white, middle-class/upper-middle-class, liberal culture.

Ultimately the show is a savvy exploration of self-mockery of a subset of lefty culture. Sometimes it’s good to take a moment to laugh at the absurdity of a culture taken to an extreme. It’s a medicine arugula-eating liberals might be happy to take.

Cross posted.

Birthday Song

It's true. Today is my birthday. I used this nifty Billboard #1 song finder to discover what was the top song on the day I was born. Here it is.

Oh boy, am I ever a child of the 1980s. I also apparently share a birthday with Dolly Parton. Huh.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

'Big Love' is Back


This Sunday the HBO series "Big Love" returned for its fifth and final season. There's no question the quality of the show has declined significantly over time -- so much so that one of the show's stars, Chloe Sevigny called last season "awful" "as far as I'm concerned." Still, I'm hooked on the show and couldn't help but tune in.

In some ways, the success of "Big Love" is curious. The fictional drama is focused on a tiny sliver of a tiny minority: Mormon polygamists. Mormons, according to the most recent census estimates, at 3,158,000 self-identified individuals make up just over 1 percent of the total U.S. population. Yet Mormons are surprisingly prevalent in public life. The U.S. Senate is the workplace of six men who self-identify as Mormon (an impressive representation considering there is currently no African American member of the U.S. Senate), including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the U.S. House of Representatives has 15 Mormon members. Obviously the representation is concentrated in the Southwest region of the United States. But though the presence of Mormonism in public life is prevalent, the focus on polygamous Mormons seems almost absurdly outsized. (The Church of Latter Day Saints officially ceased the practice of plural marriages in 1890.)

"Big Love" is also a sliver of the wealth of pop culture out there about polygamist Mormons these days. Last year saw young adult novels Keep Sweet,The Chosen One: A Novel, and Sister Wife as well as the more grownup novel Hidden Wives. (I read a meta review of these books in the last issue of Bitch magazine, so I can't attest to their quality individually.) TLC also started airing its reality show "Sister Wives" last fall.

Last season, "Big Love" definitely tapped into the fascination with Mormons in public life with its main story arc. The show seemed to be exploring the question, what would happen if someone, in this case Bill, were elected to office while keeping the secret that he is a polygamist under wraps? Because it would be nearly impossible for this to happen on a national level (although you never know), it seemed obvious to turn to state office, something the press pays little to no attention to.

At the end of last season (spoilers ahead if you haven't seen it), Bill publicly acknowledges the fact that he is in a plural marriage, to the disgust of many of his supporters and employees. The premise for this season seems to be dealing with the aftermath of that. If you think living in a secret plural marriage is hard, the show seems to be concluding, living in a public one is infinitely harder.

Big Love will end this season, but it doesn't look like the fixation on polygamy or plural marriages will end anytime soon -- after all, TLC's "Sister Wives" has been renewed for a second season. In this way, popular representations of polygamy has become a way of exploring alternative sexuality, family, and gender issues in a community that typically adheres to the very traditional "family values" nature of conservative Christianity. Popular culture will continue to look for skeletons in the closet of Mormonism, whether they're fictional or not.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Links: Long Weekend Edition

  • Ashton Kutcher doesn't understand why sex ed doesn't focus more on sexual pleasure for women. [The Frisky]
  • An ugly reminder that your health has a lot more to do with racial inequality than we'd all like to admit. [New York Times]
  • Ever tried closing your eyes and walking in a straight line? Can't do it, can you? [NPR]
  • As I suspected, assassins almost always have three names to prevent mistaken identities. [Slate]
  • Marshmallow is a plant. Really. [Food & Think]
  • Maybe those widely accepted stages of grief aren't all they're cracked up to be. [Brainiac]
  • Turns out when you elect a bunch of anti-choice state legislators, you get the possibility for some serious anti-choice legislation. [Women's eNews]
  • Beer batter is the best. Obviously. [Food & Think]
  • Long Read: This is mad old, but Zadie Smith's review of The Social Network is a really beautiful piece of writing. [New York Review of Books]

Thursday, January 13, 2011

When Women Run for Office


Via Andrea Grimes, this analysis from the Dallas Morning News of possible candidates to replace Dallas mayor Tome Leppert is fascinating. Can you spot the sexism?
Dallas City Council member, Dallas lawyer

Pros: High name recognition and ability to get votes across the city. Could be dangerous if matched up against the right candidate.

Cons: Considered the enemy of some in the business elite. Ability to run an aggressive campaign could be affected by her new family. Can she raise enough money to compete? [emphasis added]

Defense attorney

Pros: As the only announced candidate in the mayor's race, he has an opportunity to get some early momentum.

Cons: He has to build recognition as he is virtually unknown throughout the city.

Dallas City Council member, Dallas businessman

Pros: Got out the gate early and appears to be in position to get support from various Dallas business leaders. With consultant Carol Reed already on board, Natinsky has access to campaign dollars.

Cons: Could have difficulty getting southern Dallas support. Some business leaders looking for an alternative.

Park Board president, former homeless czar

Pros: Long considered to be a viable successor to Leppert. Strong ties to city's business elite and could get votes in the south.

Cons: Does he really want it? Has no campaign experience.

Dallas businessman

Pros: Has enough money to self-finance his campaign and attract solid consultants. Could be appealing to those looking for a pro-business candidate.

Cons: Still relatively unknown to much of the city. Has to overcome being known as the guy who spent $1 million on an unsuccessful council race.
Hm, one of the female candidates seems to have a con that the male candidates don't.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My Birthday Books

Via the Awl, there is apparently a website that tells you what books were bestsellers on the day you were born. Mine are below (non-fiction first, followed by fiction):

Uh, I know my birthday is coming up next week and all, but no need to commemorate the day with either of these books. What's yours?

Women Spend Less Time on Research in Academia

(Flickr/Marshall Astor - Food Pornographer)

Via Inside Higher Ed, Academe is publishing a new study that finds women in academia are routinely given more departmental service duties -- duties that often aren't considered when considering promotions. The study examined 350 faculty members at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst and found:
Although associate professors of both sexes worked similar amounts of time overall—about sixty-four hours a week—the distribution of work time varied considerably. Men spent seven and a half hours more a week on their research than did women. Even if these differences in research time occurred only during semesters, not during summer or holiday breaks, this would mean that men spent in excess of two hundred more hours on their research each year than women. On the other hand, women associate professors taught an hour more each week than men, mentored an additional two hours a week, and spent nearly five hours more a week on service. This translates to women spending roughly 220 more hours on teaching, mentoring, and service over two semesters than men at that rank.
In other words, when it comes to promotion in academia it's research that matters -- and men are getting to spend more time on research than women. In many ways, it's the equivalent of the housework paradox; women spend just enough more time on household duties than men often translating into less time working those extra hours that might get you promoted.

I wish I could say I was surprised, but this study just confirms what I learned anecdotally from women I've interviewed in academia. Women are often assigned to more administrative and teaching duties while their male peers are left to do more research and publish more studies. It will take some serious cultural changes to alter this pattern.

No Wonder Woman TV Show


Alyssa Rosenberg writes on the fact that it seems clear we're not going to be getting a Wonder Woman TV show. Alyssa covers many of the practical reasons why such a show might not be good, but I'm still a bit bummed at the news. Truth be told, I haven't read too many of the Wonder Woman comics, and plenty of feminists have mixed feelings about Wonder Woman. (See this piece by Shelby Knox on why Wonder Woman's recent "modernization" isn't such a win for feminists.)

But the reason I'm bummed about the lack of of a Wonder Woman TV show has a lot to do with why it took me so long to come around to comics in the first place: The fact that female characters in comic books tend to be either an afterthought, a supporting character, or -- if she is given her own title -- generally seen as less good than the male superhero giants like Batman, Spider-Man, and Superman.

Wonder Woman, though not a perfect superhero, is the first female one. She also possesses strength that is on par with her male peers. And though her costume is certainly sexy, her powers aren't sexual -- she's intelligent and powerful in her own right.

It's true that the major comic publishers are making more efforts to highlight female characters and run titles with female leads, but it will be a while before those those characters are considered on par with the big male characters -- if they ever are. Television producers have certainly been more willing to produce TV shows that feature male leads (i.e. Smallville) than they have been to experiment with female leads.

And for what it's worth, many girls who read comics enjoy reading stories about male characters, as Okazu noted. But it'd be nice if we didn't have to be second banana to the boys.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Stagnation in Abortion Rates, Says Guttmacher


Today the Guttmacher Institute reported that abortion rates, after decades of decline, are holding steady. Guttmacher found that there were 19.4 abortions per 1,000 women for women in 2005. That number is nearly on par with the 2008 rate of 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women.

Overall the abortion rate has been on a steady decline since 1981, when the rate was 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women. That has all been due to greater access to health insurance, birth control, better information about unplanned pregnancies, and more options for contraception.

But typically in tough economic times, experts that follow abortion rates usually see an increase in abortion. Women typically have less access to regular health care -- and therefore less access to contraception -- and that means that women are more likely to have an unintended pregnancy. It seems the stagnation in the drop in teen pregnancies is also part of this trend. In tough economic times, a woman who already faces a tight financial situation might decide to end the pregnancy rather than putting her family through greater hardship. And this is often the case for women who choose abortion; the typical woman who has an abortion is a woman who already has other children.

Ideally no woman would face an unwanted pregnancy. But for obvious reasons, that's unrealistic. The pro- and anti-choice movements are both expressing concern about a stagnation in the of the abortion rate -- and even worry that that poor economic conditions could even cause a the number of abortions to tick upward. If anything, this should be yet another reason to make contraception part of preventative care under the new health care law.

How 'Life Before Man' Beats 'Blue Valentine' on the End of Relationships

Yesterday I finished reading Margaret Atwood's Life Before Man, which is about the end of a marriage in the 1970s (the book was first published in 1979). Though the book has nothing to do with the Ryan Gosling/Michelle Williams film Blue Valentine, I can't help but make the comparison since they've coincided in my media consumption.

While Blue Valentine certainly tried to be "real" about the end of a relationship, there are ways that a film is limiting. For one, the fact that the film tries to condense enough significant scenes into a two-hour film is challenging. Many relationships that crumble do so over the span of months or, most often, years.

This is where Life Before Man has the depiction Blue Valentine tried to create beat. The book covers the four main people in a relationship: the husband, Nate; the wife, Elizabeth; the mistress, Lesje; and the man the mistress leaves for the husband, William. In Life Before Man, no one is innocent, but no one is exactly a villain, either. Both Nate and Elizabeth are unfaithful to each other, but they approach their infidelity in a way a way that is both mature and destructive.

Like the characters in Blue Valentine, they feel an obligation to make the relationship work on some level for the children. But Life Before Man takes the complexity to a higher level. The characters are sometimes selfish, often tortured, and always elegantly written. Perhaps the character that's depicted as the most selfish and vengeful, Elizabeth, is not entirely unsympathetic. After all, she's trapped in an unhappy marriage and is suffering from the loss of a former lover. She also faces extreme pressure to be a good mother, an accomplished employee, and a woman in her late 30s who is still desirable. She is certainly not perfect and not always likable, but I think that might be why I like her so much.

In any case, it's an excellent book and I highly recommend reading it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Problem With 'Like a Man' Articles


Today the Wall Street Journal has some advice on what women can learn about dressing well. The solution, it seems, is to "shop like a man." The piece itself offers some advice on looking for quality and comfort over labels and style -- something that my mother who sewed many of her own clothes over the years would likely raise her eyebrows at the idea that these are "masculine" qualities.

See, there's a problem with the "like a man" genre of article -- and there's no shortage of them. Women are frequently told to ask for a raise like a man, Date Like a Man, and even pee like a man. But the problem here is that "like a man" is often synonymous with "do it better." When women are given advice on asking for raises "like a man" it's because women are often paid less than men, and it's often thought that the solution is to simply mimic men's behaviors to receive the best results. Same goes for dating and peeing -- the idea is that men somehow do it better. The way to fix that seems to be to tell women how to be more like men.

There's a reason there isn't a genre of "like a woman" articles for men. (Except for this Daily Fail Mail article on a man who spent a week "living like a woman.") See, the idea is that men would never want to be "like a woman" because women are generally considered inferior, even though if you replace "like a woman" with "better," you could write articles on how men should drive like a woman, how to multitask like a woman, or how to fly a fighter jet like a woman.

But you don't see articles like that -- or at least, not nearly to the frequency with which you see "like a man" articles.

In the case of the WSJ article, it was talking about ways that men and women's clothing industries differ. But while women's clothing is often made, marketed, and sold in ways that are different than men's clothing, it's a shame to write the article in a way that assumes all women go for more cheap clothing over men, who buy fewer quality pieces. After all, there are plenty of women who don't like to buy shirts with mismatched stripes, spend time looking at quality over labels, and refuse to buy fabrics that aren't comfortable. Let's stop with the gender essentialism.

On the Shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Violent Political Rhetoric


As the country tries to digest the violent shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) that left six dead and 14 others wounded, the language around political discourse has come under scrutiny. Giffords is believed to be the first female American politician that has undergone an assassination attempt. Giffords is still in critical condition as of this writing.

Victims in the shooting included Judge John Roll, a 63-year-old state appeals court judge who had recently received death threats for a ruling that found ranchers holding people at gunpoint upon crossing the boarder were acting illegally, and Christina-Taylor Green, a 9-year-old girl who was born on 9/11 and already showed promise as a potential leader since she was recently elected president of her class. The alleged shooter, Jared L. Loughner, is in custody and faces federal charges for an assassination attempt.

Shortly after news of the shooting broke, material from Sarah Palin's PAC revealed Giffords had been one of the electoral "targets," and the campaign materials used gun sights as imagery. Jessica Valenti published a piece in The Guardian that notes that Palin's PAC may have used such imagery thanks to a surge of "man up" rhetoric in politics recently:
In a country that sees masculinity – especially violent masculinity – as the ideal, it's no wonder that this type of language resonates. But it's a sad state of affairs when women in politics have to resort to using the same gendered stereotypes that kept all women out of public service for so long.
Discussions following the violent shooting on Saturday left those on the right reiterating that there was no connection between violent rhetoric and the actions of one mentally ill individual (Jill did a great job of explaining why simply blaming mental illness is bad). Those on the left insisted that violent rhetoric put forth by the Tea Party and others is creating a culture that deranged individuals might tap into.

This reminds me, oddly of the debate that came after the fatal shooting of Dr. George Tiller, a late-term abortion provider in Kansas who was shot to death in his church by Scott Roeder. Many of Tiller's colleagues noted the sustained and repeated harassment they and Tiller received over the years. Tiller's name was a rallying cry for the anti-choice right. Many were shocked that those on the right claimed that their often violent rhetoric toward Tiller wasn't connected to Roeder's actions.

The causes of violence are complex. The truth is we really don't know what makes someone attempt violence of this nature on another person. I'm not ready to blame Palin or others on the right personally, especially as details of the shooting are still getting sorted out. But would it hurt to make our political rhetoric more civilized and less violent? Definitely not.

Kentucky Steps Up Scrutiny of For-Profit Schools

Kentucky has been stepping up its scrutiny of for-profit schools in the state. Now, state legislators are proposing legislation that would increase accountability and oversight of for profit schools, and the state’s attorney general, Jack Conway, is opening up an investigation into the practices of the industry.

A joint education committee meeting between the state’s house and senate convened last fall to hear from students of for-profit schools. In an interview with Campus Progress, Rep. Reginald Meeks (D), the sponsor of the proposed legislation, described the testimony of students at the hearing. Students testified said that some of the state’s for-profit colleges were leaving them with high loads of debt and sometimes unemployable. Some students testified that they didn’t realize their schools weren’t accredited and some schools were dishonest in the claims they made when students were recruited, Meeks says.

Unfortunately, such stories aren’t uncommon. Last year the Government Accountability Office released an undercover video and report that documented for-profit recruiters making false claims about the school’s programs and encouraging students to lie on Federal Aid applications. A Bloomberg investigation reported last year that some for-profits were recruiting students from homeless shelters. (This video from Campus Progress summarizes abuses found in those and other investigations.)

Currently for-profit students account for about just 10 percent of all students, yet they account for about a quarter of federally subsidized student aid and nearly half of all loan defaults. Some for-profit schools have alarmingly high default rates for their students; a recent Senate committee report found 12 for-profit schools they examined had default rates higher than 50 percent.

After hearing testimony from students, Kentucky legislators asked to hear from the then-chairman of the State Board of Proprietary Education (SBPE), Mark Gabis. (Kentucky is one of few states that has such an oversight board.). But Meeks said Gabis’ testimony “raised more questions and concerns than it answered.”

Gabis is also the president of Owensboro-based Daymar College, a college that is currently the defendant in a lawsuit brought forth by former students that alleges that the school left them unprepared for the job market. Gabis has since stepped down as chairman of the SBPE.

Meeks noted that Gabis admitted the board hadn’t done an internal audit and hadn’t responded to students’ requests for help from the state’s $500,000 Student Protection Fund.

Kentucky’s Attorney General Jack Conway (D) announced an investigation into industry practices on Dec. 15 for potentially violating the state’s consumer protection law. Conway issued six subpoenas to for-profit schools, but declined to list the schools that are under investigation. Rep. Meeks also requested an audit of the SBPE from Kentucky’s state auditor, Crit Luallen, on Dec. 29.

Meeks is proposing legislation that aims to provide greater oversight to these for-profit schools. It would place them under the authority of the state’s council on postsecondary education, bringing the schools under scrutiny similar to that of other state-funded institutions. Right now, the State Board of Proprietary Education is dominated by individuals with financial or other ties to proprietary schools.

“There’s a sense that the fox is guarding the henhouse,” Meeks says. “The decisions [the board] have made protect the schools more than the citizens of the commonwealth of Kentucky.”

The groups that work on behalf of the for-profit schools in Kentucky say they are reserving their judgment on the legislation. "We are still processing the substantive provisions of Rep. Meeks' bill, but we will be happy to work with him and his colleagues toward a mutually acceptable solution," says Brenda L. Gargano, Executive Director of Kentucky Association of Career Colleges & Schools.

Still, Meeks says he recognizes that for-profit schools serve a purpose, and there are some that have close affiliations with other non-profit institutions or with industries that are doing a good job of preparing students. But others he says “may not offer the panacea that they claim they do.”

Cross posted.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Blue Valentine and Choice

(Publicity still for Blue Valentine)

I watched Blue Valentine this weekend. (Spoilers ahead, though the film isn't so much driven by plot.) Though I kept hearing the film was so depressing since it was about the end of a heterosexual relationship, I didn't really come out of it feeling that devastated.

The film is ultimately about people more or less trapped by circumstances. Both of the main characters, played by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, are working class people who have potential. Williams' character, Cindy, says she'd really love to go to medical school and be a doctor. Gosling's character is more content with his life in manual labor though apparently has some skill as a musician and an artist.

We see the characters in two parallel story lines, one in which they are falling in love and the other in which they are falling out of love. When the two meet, Cindy is in the midst of a breakup with another boyfriend who we witness having sex with her and coming in her without her consent. The act ultimately destroys her relationship with the previous boyfriend. She then meets Gosling's character, and the beginning of their relationship coincides with the messy end of another. The scenes in which the two characters fall asleep are touching, making the contrast with the second storyline a sharp one.

It seems clear throughout the film that Williams isn't on birth control in that first storyline. Her partners also don't seem to use condoms. When she discovers she's pregnant, she can't say for sure that Gosling's character is the father. But contraception isn't discussed in the film by any of the characters.

The film then includes a scene in an abortion clinic, in which Williams' character gets to the point of receiving anesthesia and then asks to stop the procedure. We don't know why Williams' character decides she doesn't want an abortion, but the film leads us to believe that it is he pain and discomfort of the procedure that causes her to change her mind. (I'd be interested to hear from women who have undergone the experience to examine how realistic the discomfort is depicted.) Afterward, they decide to stay together and "be a family," as Gosling says, the scene is tragic because we've been watching end of their relationship at the same time in the parallel storyline.

Still, I didn't come away from the movie feeling sad. Their relationship ran a natural course. It is just because of circumstances that they were tied together by a chil, an adorable girl named Frankied. But because it seems that they would each honestly be happier apart than they would be together, and it seems that they ultimately love and care for Frankie.

Would the characters been happier had Williams' character not gotten pregnant? Maybe. It's certainly true that the end of the relationship might not have been as fraught with consideration for a child and they possibly may not have rushed into getting married so quickly. But in the end, these were the choices they made. That's the thing about giving women the choice of having an abortion. She might choose not to have one. Sometimes that's the better choice and sometimes it isn't. It's unclear how we're supposed to feel about Williams' characters choice. Some may come out of the movie thinking so, others may come out of it thinking she made the right one. But ultimately it's important that she's allowed to make that decision.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Friday Links: 'Math Is Hard. Let's Go Shopping.'

(Flickr/Bindaas Madhavi)
  • This is a really fantastic slideshow that refutes the "men are just better at math" idea. My favorite quote? "Math is hard. Let's go shopping." [Geek Feminism Blog]
  • Most sports reporters are white (and, I might add, male) and it's hurting sports coverage. [Colorlines]
  • Miller Lite runs a sexist ad campaign. Again. [Bitch Blogs]
  • Planned Parenthood Arizona does some good work, but this writer thinks it's still firmly entrenched in the white "mainstream." [The Feminist Wire]
  • As the comic industry hems and haws about what their female readers want, one blogger took it upon herself to ask a bunch of women who read comics what they want. [Okazu]
  • Boardwalk Empire has brought prostitutes to premium cable again, and this blogger interviews an extra who played one. [Abortion Gang]
  • London was once the home of a ruthless all-female gang called Forty Elephants in the 18th century. [The Guardian]
  • A stay-at-home mom can't sleep because she's given up decades of earning power. [Salon]
  • New Yorker's fiction writers are mostly male. [The Millions]

Teens Critical of Sexual Health Information Online


Via Guttmacher, a new study conducted by Guttmacher's own Rachel K. Jones and Ann E. Biddlecom of the United Nations Population Division discovered teens are wary of information about sex they find on the internet (or Internet, if you're the AP Stylebook). It's almost as if they discovered that information found on in the interwebz is sometimes unreliable! Instead they'd rather rely on advice from family members, teachers, or -- gasp -- their doctors. It's almost as if these savvy teens recognize that sexual health is related to other health.

Seriously, though, I think this study reveals that teens are just as smart (or smarter) than the rest of us. It's not that there isn't good information out there on the internet (Scarleteen, Sex, etc., Planned Parenthood's teen site, AmplifyYour Voice, and It's Your Sex Life are all great resources), but teens have figured out that information on the internet varies based on the writer's bias. The Guttmacher press release noted that, "The teens indicated a distrust of online information because it is often user-generated and could therefore be incorrect." Reading information on the internet is much like encountering information in the rest of your life. You have to figure out what information reliable and what information isn't. Sometimes, it's harder to tell than other times.

Teens are turning to people they already trust because, well, they already trust them in other aspects of life. But like anything, the folks you trust to get you to school on time or teach you algebra theory might be a great resource -- or they might not. The important thing for teens to do as they suss out information on sex, whether they are thinking about becoming sexually active right then or want to wait until later in life, is to use their critical thinking skills and look for sources that are trustworthy, whether online or in real life (IRL for you teens!).

Most important, there should be an abundance of good information out there. One grad student in public health admitted on a listserv I'm on that she sometimes killed time by responding to sexual health-related inquiries on Yahoo! Answers. It's a great way of contributing in a small way for those teens who may not feel comfortable going to family members or other adults for information.

So if you have the expertise, this seems like an easy way to help tilt the scale toward good information online.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Why Vaginal Steam Baths are Bad


Apparently some women are going to spas to get their vaginas "steamed" at Korean spas. The LA Times reported last month:
Vaginal steam baths, called chai-yok, are said to reduce stress, fight infections, clear hemorrhoids, regulate menstrual cycles and aid infertility, among many other health benefits. In Korea, many women steam regularly after their monthly periods.

There is folk wisdom — and even some logic — to support the idea that the carefully targeted steam may provide some physiological benefits for women. But there are no studies to document its effectiveness, and few American doctors have even heard of it.
There are lots of reasons why this is a bad idea. First, steam can cause more severe burns than boiling water and I'm guessing few women want burns anywhere near their vajayjays. Ow.

Second, at best this treatment is designed to achieve the same goals as vaginal douching. And if you don't know how bad that is for you already, you should read this article.

In short, never let anyone put steam anywhere near your vagina. Just don't.

Looking at the Source on New 'Study' That Says Women Want to 'Marry Up'

(Flickr/Mr. Physics)

I was all set to write a snarky blog post about this recent article in the British Telegraph that says a new "study" finds that women don't really want equal pay and a career. Instead, says Dr. Catherine Hakim of the London School of Economics, that women really just want to "marry up." But then I realized that this was an actual News Article published in a serious Newspaper and that people might take it seriously. Sometimes folks think the British are more trustworthy -- possibly because they add extra letters to words and have authoritative accents.

Let's start with the newspaper that published the article. See, Brits don't have our weird American obsession with objective journalism. Instead, they adopted long ago what we have adopted more of today. According to NPR's helpful map of British newspaper ideology, The Guardian is back by the UK's Labor (liberal) party, while the Telegraph is backed by the conservatives. This quote from a conservative member of parliament pretty much says it all:
"If a Guardian journalist were to interview me, I would definitely assume that they would be trying to penetrate into areas of weakness in what the government is doing ... or particular policies that they are very worried about," says Nick Boles, a Conservative member of Parliament from England's East Midlands region. "Whereas with The Telegraph, they'd probably be more likely to be ... looking for ways in which the government was betraying the Conservative cause."
So I guess the Guardian is more similar to the American Huffington Post while the Telegraph is more similar to more conservative news outlets like the Daily Caller or the Weekly Standard.

Meanwhile the place that published the study mentioned in the Telegraph article is the Centre for Policy Studies, which is basically a conservative think tank. It was founded, according to its own website, to "'convert the Tory Party' to economic liberalism." It also looks like the think tank has picked up more of a socially conservative bent over the years. From CPS' page on "social policy/family":
The family is at the heart of society. Evidence from a wide range of UK and US sources show that children who experience family breakdown or who grow up in fatherless families are at much higher risk of poor outcomes: from educational failure to drink and drug abuse, from crime and teenage pregnancy to unemployment and relationship breakdown.

UK fiscal policy should be reformed to support marriage through the tax system and to remove the welfare penalty on two-parent families. State intervention in family life should focus on protection of vulnerable children; it should not extend to managing their day-to-day lives and removing responsibility and judgment from parents.

CPS also held an event last March titled "How the sisterhood fails mothers." And the title of the study cited in the Telegraph article is actually titled "Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine," and the text of the study itself sounds a lot like gender essentialism from the days of yore. Hakim notices that few women are high economic achievers, so she concludes this must be because women don't want to be high economic achievers. In short, the research seems to conclude that feminism has been around for a few decades and we don't have gender equality yet, so it must not work!

Sounds like pretty standard social conservatism here in America. In other words, it sounds like citing a study about women in the workforce put out by CPS would be similar to one put out by the Heritage Foundation.

One of Heim's key findings in the study she put forth is that "Despite feminist claims, the truth is that most men and women have different career aspirations and priorities." She simply observes a pattern and doesn't delve into why women "want" different things from careers than men and doesn't spend much time diving into what forces might shape those different desires.

Hakim herself is known for criticizing feminist theory, and has recently put forth work on "erotic capitol" or the idea that sexual appeal can result in economic capitol. This is yet another gender essentialist idea that at best makes feminists uncomfortable.

So next time you see an article that puts forth claims that new research finds women don't actually want equality, it might be useful to spend some time thinking about who is saying that and why.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Tyranny of the Resolutionaries

Folks have been writing a lot about New Year's resolutions lately. How to diet. How to exercise. If you can possibly talk about one without the other. This is, in part, why I personally despise New Year's resolutions. They're naively optimistic about the beginning of a new year only to be met with severe disappointment. And since no one seems to keep them, who cares? Mostly, they're the butt of a lot of jokes.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B. Exhibit C. You get the idea.

But all those "eat better," "exercise more," and "lose weight" resolutions are one of the most frustrating things for regular gym goers (or even semi-regular gym goers, because let's face it, almost everyone has skipped the gym for happy hour or sleeping in at least a few times). The flood of new faces at the gym that you see for a week or a month at the beginning of January is super irritating. They take up treadmill space. They wander aimlessly around the weight lifting machines. They put those annoying and always-bored trainers to use.

The Washington Post's style section, in a surprising turn of events, wrote an amusing piece about this phenomenon. These so-called "resolutionaries," which is a word I love and wish we had the opportunity to use more than once a year, it turns out, irritate lots of people. The piece is filled with quotes from fitness instructors, gym workers, and regular gym goers, pretty much all of which are wonderful:
"They're banging on the machines," the new guys are, says Mike Sponseller. "It's like watching '2001: A Space Odyssey,' " the scene where the ape uses a bone as a club, only instead of discovering a use for tools, the newbies are trying to figure out how to turn on a StairMaster."


"January is kind of like our tax season," says Dave Reiseman, a spokesman for Gold's Gym, which has 50 locations in the D.C. metro area, and which can see 100% increases in gym attendance during the first month of the year. "We do a lot of preparation to make sure that new guests" have everything they need for a strong start. Gold's offers an equipment orientation. An eight-week customized health and fitness plan. An infinitely available staff.


"I think that in their mind, the new people might have this feeling that the gym is supposed to be like [HBO's] 'Oz,' " says Steve Farina, who has been a member of the Gold's Gym in Ballston for five years and witnesses the arrival of the resolutionaries every year. "Like they're in a prison yard," and they have to prove their strength by hulking out, set after set, oblivious to those waiting in line."


"The spin instructor always asks if anyone is new," says Carmela Clendening, a WSC regular. "But the new people don't raise their hands." Why do they not raise their hands? Someone would help them if they would just raise their hands."
Now, that's not to say that it's not OK to be a newbie at something. If you don't work out regularly, I understand that for some this is as good of a time as any. What's frustrating is when "resolutionaries" clog up the machines for a few weeks and then just disappear. The middle of winter, when it doesn't get light until late and gets dark again early, seems like a very poor time to dedicate oneself to exercise.

In any case, well done, Washington Post.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Black Leaders and For-Profit Schools

Recently the Atlanta Post ran an excellent piece criticizing some African-American leaders for opposing new regulations proposed by the Department of Education that would improve accountability of for-profit schools. The idea behind the proposed regulations, which Campus Progress supports, is to removefederal financial aid from college-level training programs if a large percentage of their students fail to find work or end up with high levels of debt. Seems like a good idea for all students—including students of color, right? But according to the editorial:

Interestingly enough, Black leaders like Jesse Jackson and members of the Black Caucus are opposed to these new regulations. William Gray, a Pennsylvania Democrat and former Black Caucus member, has been tapped to lobby on the behalf of the for-profit schools.

Why some black leaders are suddenly on the for-profits’ side of the debate is unclear, but he Post piece raises some questions:

… it’s questionable whether the black leaders challenging the Department of Education’s attempts are inspired by lobbying duties or genuine conviction. The for-profit industry is spending a lot of money to fight these proposed regulations and lobbying politicians constitutes a legal way of buying favors. According to Bloomberg, ten education companies have increased their spending on lobbying by $1.3 million over the last year. All that influx of money makes it difficult to discern why William Gray and Jesse Jackson are defending these schools[.]

Jackson and Gray might be on the side of the for-profit schools, but not all prominent black leaders are on board. Inside Higher Ed recently reported that for-profit lobbyist Lanny Davis asked to include prominent black leader Al Sharpton on an ad campaign to oppose the regulations, but Sharpton objected. In an email he reportedly sent to Davis, Sharpton said:

Though I agree that there is a need for the services the schools provide, especially in communities of color, we should weed out the abusers of this service. … To attack the Department rather than engage them is a bad strategy in my opinion. I think the President and Sec Duncan are not the enemies here. In fact I think they have done more for closing the education achievement gap than they have been given credit.

Furthermore, Julianne Hing’s reporting in Colorlines points out that minority leaders taking a stand against regulations that cut off funds from bad programs doesn’t make sense:

According to the Career College Association, which represents for-profit schools, 43 percent of students are people of color; in the United States, 23 percent of blacks and 18 percent of Latinos with associate degrees went to for-profit schools.

Most notably, for-profit schools teach 12 percent of the nation’s post-secondary students—and counting—but receive 23 percent of the nation’s federal student aid money. This alone is not a bad thing—students deserve an education and help to make their education affordable. But 40 percent of students from for-profit schools eventually default on their loans; the national average for all higher education institutions is 20 percent. And the dropout rate from for-profit schools is also alarmingly high—a whopping 57 percent never graduate.

Those are some pretty startling figures. If anything, black and other minority leaders should be calling for stronger regulations so that students of color aren’t left with huge piles of debt and dismal job prospects.

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