Monday, February 28, 2011

Adventures in Entertainment for the Rich


Ever since funding for (wo)manned space flights became public policy, we knew that space travel would only move forward if private investors wanted it badly enough. Luckily! The New York Times is totally all over this:
If all goes as planned, within a couple of years, tourists will be rocketing into space aboard a Virgin Galactic space plane — paying $200,000 for about four minutes of weightlessness — before coming back down for a landing on a New Mexico runway.
Holy cow! Only $200,000! What a steal! Granted, the Times notes it's "prohibitively expensive ... except for a small slice of the wealthy" but the obvious point is this: Early adaptations of technology are very expensive, and tend to have early adopters among the wealthy. But as technologies get cheaper, they filter to the masses. (Ahem, jet packs.)

Still, Star Trek fans who remember how egalitarian (or you could say utopian) that future world was painted, space travel, at least for now, is for the rich.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Links: Team Katniss!

(Flickr/Makena G)
  • I, too, devoured the Hunger Games series in a short period of time. Team Katniss! [Feminist Fatale]
  • What would a world without Planned Parenthood look like for black women? Bad. Really bad (via Amanda Marcotte). [The Root]
  • Disney princesses as snarky hipsters. Thanks to Laura McGann for nominating me to be Ariel. [Vulture]
  • A girl's guide to the boy's club (featuring photos of Mad Men). [This Recording]
  • What major magazine editors have to say about the dearth of female bylines in their magazines. [The Jewish Daily Forward]
  • If you haven't yet, you should really check out Sarah Jaffe's phenomenal series on the "HR 3 Ten," the ten Democratic congressmen who voted in favor of the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act." [RH Reality Check]
  • Tracy Clark-Flory does some great reporting on a kind of silly study on casual sex. [Salon]

Having Red Hair Is a Way of Life

(Flickr/ visibleducts)

Sadie Stan writes a post over at Jezebel about how odd it is that women want to dye their hair red. She says:
The rest of us don't really know about any of that: we just know it looks cool. And because it's unusual, becomes a way of standing out — without the baggage actual redheads have to deal with, either in childhood or historically speaking. But the irony is that most of our redheaded icons — Christina Hendricks, Cynthia Nixon, Lucille Ball, Amy Adams, Gillian Anderson — are actually blondes. Rita Hayworth, meanwhile, was a brunette. All of these people have chosen red hair — and in the process, maybe, helped cement its rep for chic beauty — but without any of the context.
I would just like to point out that some of us (ahem) look cool without having to dye our hair red. That is all.

Chatting with Jocelyn Elders

(Photo courtesy Ripon College)

Bitch magazine's poll of women we miss now that they're gone reminded me that I did an interview with former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders a couple years back. She's a pretty rad lady—and as far as I know still kickin'. You should go check it out.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

We Need More Feminists Like Anthony Weiner

That is all. (h/t Shani)

Advertising Company Agrees to Pull Ad Campaign That Says Black Women's Wombs Are Dangerous

Black women, why are your wombs so dangerous? Good news, though. Lamar Outdoor Advertising has agreed to pull the ad.

Also, here's some data from Guttmacher data [PDF] refuting the idea that abortion clinics are primarily found in black neighborhoods. Way to come off as racist, anti-choice movement.

Update: Hey, also maybe they should check with the mother of the child photographed before using her for their political message. #gross

New State Legislator Strategy: Protecting Terrorists Like Scott Roeder

Imagine for a moment that some state legislators were trying to pass legislation would offer special legal protections for terrorists. And that these legislators are Republicans. Oh wait, you don't have to imagine that because that's actually happening in America today.

Thankfully, the South Dakota bill that outlined killing abortion providers as "justifiable homicide" is indefinitely shelved, but there are new bills introduced in two states: Iowa and Nebraska. The fantastic American Independent News Network's Lynda Waddington reports that two bills proposed in Iowa would drastically change both abortion and criminal law for those accused of murdering abortion providers:
Currently, abortion is also settled law in Iowa. But House File 153, sponsored by 28 Republicans, challenges it. Under that bill, the state would be mandated to recognize and protect “life” from the moment of conception until “natural death” with the full force of the law and state and federal constitutions. Essentially, the bill declares that from the moment a male sperm and a female ovum join to create a fertilized egg that a person exists.

House File 7, which has been sponsored by 29 GOP House members, seeks to expand state law regarding use of reasonable force, including deadly force. Current state laws provide that citizens are not required to retreat from their dwelling or place of business if they or a third party are threatened. The proposal would significantly expand this to state that citizens are not required to retreat from “any place at which the person has a right to be present,” and that in such instances, the citizen has the right to use reasonable force, including deadly force, to protect himself or a third party from serious injury or death or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
And Nick Baumann and Daniel Schulman at Mother Jones report that similar steps to protect those who kill abortion providers are being taken by Nebraska legislators:
The legislation, LB 232, was introduced by state Sen. Mark Christensen, a devout Christian and die-hard abortion foe who is opposed to the prodedure even in the case of rape. Unlike its South Dakota counterpart, which would have allowed only a pregnant woman, her husband, her parents, or her children to commit "justifiable homicide" in defense of her fetus, the Nebraska bill would apply to any third party.
This means that elected officials in this country are seeking to increase protections -- essentially providing "get out of jail free" cards for terrorists like Scott Roeder who target abortion providers. And, in case you forgot, killing abortion providers is terrorism.

Because abortion is considered divisive, people in America tend to think there are two sides of equal weight to just about every debate surrounding it. But here, we're actually talking about people who, by targeting people who have a certain profession for murder, are intimidating doctors from entering that profession. Yet it's almost certain cable news networks will treat this as yet another "two sides to the abortion debate" issue.

These are actually the two sides: One side that thinks that people who murder people should be tried as murderers, and another side that thinks that murdering people is somehow "justified" based on the kind of work that they do. But killing abortion doctors isn't "justifiable homicide." It's just not.

If pro-choicers were smart, they'd try to relabel each of these bills as the "Terrorists Get Out of Jail Free Act."

Quote of the Day: Boehner on DOMA

House Speaker John Boehner (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Flickr/TalkMediaNews)

Via Ben Smith:
"While Americans want Washington to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending, the president will have to explain why he thinks now is the appropriate time to stir up a controversial issue that sharply divides the nation."

Statement from House Speaker John Boehner's office on Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement that the Obama administration will no longer enforce the Defense of Marriage Act.
Um, if that's not the pot calling the kettle black, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why I'll Never Be a Stay-At-Home Girlfriend

(Flickr/mrrobertwade (wadey))

The "Stay At Home Girlfriend" (I guess the "SAHG" acronym was intentional since it was in the headline, but something pronounced "sag" -- really?) piece on Brokelyn caused a lot of ladyblogs to protest and mock it.

Edith Zimmerman in her quintessentially concise way, just said, "LOL, is this a joke?"

Jessica Wakeman, bless her heart, defended the piece, "I don’t think there’s any shame in being a 'stay-at-home'-anything, so long as it works for both partners. A homemaker can still be a feminist. My mother stayed at home and raised five children; she quit her job when she married my widower father, adopted his three daughters from a previous marriage, and stayed at home to raise them so they no longer had to be taken care of by babysitters and relatives."

Sadie Stein over at Jezebel had a thoughtful response, saying that though she would also defend the right of a stay-at-home anything as a legitimate choice, "let's face it: the tone of this is ... troubling."

The piece, written by Quiana Stokes—who, if this is her on LinkedIn, worked at JP Morgan and went to Wesleyan—says this is definitely an unexpected situation and, for all we know, she views this as a temporary excursion into domestic bliss. But I have to agree with Stein. This is troubling. Much of it seems to be pulled directly out of the stuff that Betty Friedan criticized in the Feminine Mystique—right down to the ideas of presenting your man with beer when he arrives at home and keeping "yourself up." (Fun fact: This book was the first ever feminist book I read and I recommend it; I found it all-too-relevant despite the fact it was published nearly half a century ago.)

Like Jessica and Stein, I'll admit that there's no shame in staying at home, but I will say that women feel a unique pressure to stay at home when possible (even though few women could possibly ever afford to do so—ahem, "two-bedroom Greenpoint apartment" that Stokes and her unnamed boyfriend seem to be able to afford on one income), but here are the reasons I'll probably won't ever stay at home while my partner works. If Stokes can lay out tips defending her position, I can lay out some reasons why I'm not likely to jump at the chance to be a SAHG.

While retirement seems a loooong way off when you're in your 20s or 30s, all the time you spend not working is time that you're probably also not contributing (or having your employer contribute) to your IRA or 401K—let alone Social Security. This has a serious long-term impact on what you will be able to afford when you're older. Since men generally don't live as long as women, you can't necessarily expect to be supported into the sunset years of your life. You're better off squirreling away for the future now.

Your partner could stop being your partner
This is an uncomfortable and sometimes painful thing to think through for a lot of women. It's awfully sweet to think you'll be with your current boyfriend, husband, or partner (or girlfriend/wife) forever, but the reality is that bad stuff happens. People break up. People get divorced. And, as awful as it is to imagine, people die. My mother was widowed when I was seven, and I've been eternally grateful my mom had her own income to raise us on. If any of those things happen when you're a stay-at-home wife/mom/girlfriend, you are in a much more financially precarious situation. I will continue to be haunted by this Salon essay by a divorced stay-at-home mom lamenting her financial situation now that she doesn't have the income she once shared with her ex-husband.

Diminished long-term earning potential
Let's face it, taking time out of the working world, as the long-term unemployed in this recession could tell you, has a real cost. If you ever need to jump back into the workforce, as the writer for Salon discovered, gaps on your resume look really unappealing to potential employers, especially if you don't have an illness or disability to explain it. Is that unfair to homemakers? Absolutely. It's also something that's really hard to counteract. Staying employed in some capacity is almost always better than just stopping work for long periods of time.

Achieving gender equity in housework
The bits Stokes adds about cleaning and cooking every day so her boyfriend doesn't have to—"I’d much rather pick up behind him"—makes me a little ill when I think about the giant picture of women and housework. Though there isn't much data out there for unmarried partners living together, a well-publicized 2008 study shows married women do a staggering 7 extra hours of housework a week. You don't have to make your personal relationship a battleground for women everywhere, but fair is fair, and it makes sense to split household chores evenly. Or at least as evenly as you can. It's really easy to say women are "better" at housework than men, but you know how you get better? You do it.

Granted, Washington, D.C., is filled with lots of semi-employed and and freelance people so if I ever ended up as a stay-at-home something I'd probably have plenty of company. Still, if I was really not working—not even blogging or, I guess writing pieces for Brokelyn—I'd probably end up bored. Eventually I'd start to feel like I do when I haven't left the house for several hours on Saturday because I was too busy watching television. Socialization is good, even if we sometimes have aggravating moments at our jobs.

The problem that has no name
I'm going to go ahead and cite Friedan again. Studies show that stay-at-home wives and mothers tend to be at higher risk of depression than working women. This is something Friedan talked about in the Feminine Mystique at length. Careers stress us out, but they're also good for our overall happiness.

I can't afford not to work
For a lot of women who work, this is the big reason. It'd be wonderful to stay at home with the kids to aid in their learning development or read a novel a day, but lots of us can't afford to not work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that despite recent trend pieces on highly educated women "opting out," this isn't really true. So many families are struggling to make ends meet, even on two incomes, and the recession is leaving a lot more people out of work than before. An even better reason to hang on to the job you've got.

To be sure, this isn't an attack on those that do choose to stay at home. I'm not saying feminism and staying home are mutually exclusive. But for I had to remind myself of the reasons it's not for me. God willing I'm not laid off tomorrow.

Update: I'm not sure why I didn't put this in my original post—probably because it's too obvious—but I should also add this last point:

Men don't sit around and talk about how awesome staying at home is
This is another big reason why I'd never do the stay-at-home thing. Men don't think about this. They just don't. True, some men think about what they'd do if they were really wealthy and didn't have to work, but because we live in a culture that's so imbued with the male breadwinner mentality that women are by default the ones that think about not working or staying home. Women just seem to make this "choice" a lot more than men do. And women are often in a compromised bargaining position—women still often make less than their male peers, women face hard choices about career and children, and women aren't usually promoted as quickly as men. I have a hard time with entertaining the notion of stay-at-homeness when it seems to be taken on disproportionately by women.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

SXSW's Comedy Gender Gap

Rita Houston and Margaret Cho (right) at SXSW last year. (Flickr/wfuv)

Hey, you should read Andrea Grimes on the kerfuffle over the lack of female comics at SXSW. She's funny and totally angry about it. Maybe next time they'll see fit to put her on the bill.

'Shoe Leather Reporting'

(Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things)

When will I understand that Muslims are evil and I should be wary of friendly sounding organizations like the Muslim Student Association, the Muslim American Society, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations?, asks Accuracy in Academia. Other things that are wrong with this piece:
  • They do not understand blockquoting. I know, guys, HTML is hard.
  • They brutally misspelled my co-author's name. For the record, it's Katie Andriulli. C'mon, guys. It's right there in the story.
I think I should also refer them to this Tumblr if they haven't seen it.

'The Next Rush Limbaugh': Conservatives Pumping Right-Wing Young People into Media Jobs

Hey guys, I have a piece on conservative journalism training found at CPAC over at AlterNet.
This year at the Conservative Political Action Committee in Washington, D.C., there were a number of targeted media trainings and journalism-oriented panels. A panel titled “Shining Light into Dark Places” sought to stress the importance of investigative journalism. Others included “Freelance Writing for Freedom,” “So You Want to be a Columnist” and “Want to be the Next Rush Limbaugh?”

Despite Sarah Palin's invectives against the "lamestream media," conservatives seem eager to fill its ranks with right-wing young people.

Modern America Is Overrun With Child-Men Who Will Never Marry You, Conservative Writer Says


Kay Hymowitz and I might share a first name, but there seems to be little else that we share. She's written about dating and marriage in the past, saying, "By the early twentieth century, things had evolved so that in the United States, at any rate, a man knew the following: he was supposed to call for a date; he was supposed to pick up his date; he was supposed to take his date out, say, to a dance, a movie, or an ice-cream joint; if the date went well, he was supposed to call for another one; and at some point, if the relationship seemed charged enough—or if the woman got pregnant—he was supposed to ask her to marry him."

To Hymowitz, this appears to be an enormous problem. I recall refuting her in an essay for Campus Progress.

Now, she's back at it again. This time, in the Wall Street Journal promoting her new book, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys, she covers a lot of things—from the changing scientific ideas about early adulthood development, which is now starting to be considered a whole different psychological phase from the rest of adulthood, to the transition to an information-based economy rather than a goods-based manufacturing one—but here's the crux of what's making everyone mad:
Where have the good men gone? Their male peers often come across as aging frat boys, maladroit geeks or grubby slackers—a gender gap neatly crystallized by the director Judd Apatow in his hit 2007 movie "Knocked Up." The story's hero is 23-year-old Ben Stone (Seth Rogen), who has a drunken fling with Allison Scott (Katherine Heigl) and gets her pregnant. Ben lives in a Los Angeles crash pad with a group of grubby friends who spend their days playing videogames, smoking pot and unsuccessfully planning to launch a porn website. Allison, by contrast, is on her way up as a television reporter and lives in a neatly kept apartment with what appear to be clean sheets and towels. Once she decides to have the baby, she figures out what needs to be done and does it. Ben can only stumble his way toward being a responsible grownup.


American men have been struggling with finding an acceptable adult identity since at least the mid-19th century. We often hear about the miseries of women confined to the domestic sphere once men began to work in offices and factories away from home. But it seems that men didn't much like the arrangement either. They balked at the stuffy propriety of the bourgeois parlor, as they did later at the banal activities of the suburban living room. They turned to hobbies and adventures, like hunting and fishing. At midcentury, fathers who at first had refused to put down the money to buy those newfangled televisions changed their minds when the networks began broadcasting boxing matches and baseball games. The arrival of Playboy in the 1950s seemed like the ultimate protest against male domestication; think of the refusal implied by the magazine's title alone.

In his disregard for domestic life, the playboy was prologue for today's pre-adult male. Unlike the playboy with his jazz and art-filled pad, however, our boy rebel is a creature of the animal house. In the 1990s, Maxim, the rude, lewd and hugely popular "lad" magazine arrived from England. Its philosophy and tone were so juvenile, so entirely undomesticated, that it made Playboy look like Camus.
It seems modern American culture has made men into puerile, selfish creatures that only want to look at porn all day, or at least, that's what Hymowitz wants you to believe. Unfortunately, I haven't met too many of these men, since I also know lots of mature, emotionally stable, and considerate men who are excited about marrying the partners their with when they're both emotionally and financially ready for marriage.

But Hymowitz's ideas fit neatly into stereotypes, so she runs with it. These notions of immature child-men is a problem. It is also, presumably, the direct cause of dropping marriage rates for young people and the rising number of folks who are getting married later (or never).

Jill Filipovic, Matt Yglesias, and Monica Potts all have great takedowns of Hymowitz's piece, but I would just add that these concerns about getting married by a certain age are becoming increasingly classist.

As Jessica Grose pointed out when Lori Gottlieb's Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough caused the Internet to explode:
About 80 percent of female college grads ages 30-44 have been married at some point, compared with 71 percent of women who did not graduate from high school, according to the latest Pew research. The marriages of college grads are also increasingly stable. From the 1970s to the '90s, rates of divorce fell by almost half among college-educated women, but they remained high among women with less than a four-year degree. If there's a crisis in marriage, it's because the least educated and poorest women are no longer getting married.
Emphasis mine. The fact that Hymowitz is focusing mostly on middle-class, upwardly mobile, mostly white men and women seems to be something she's vaguely aware of, since she ends her piece with this passage:
Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does. Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men's attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There's nothing they have to do.

They might as well just have another beer.
But in a study of's users that's consistent with the general population, lots of people are less gung ho on committing (pun intended) to marriage—not just those Playboy-reading nincompoops that Hymowitz described. The survey found that just 62 percent of users definitely wanted to get married and 29 percent just aren't sure. This is likely, as Jill pointed out, that it's because people are less likely to be in a tight economic spot for longer than they used to be:
More people generally — not just more women — are going to college. One’s first job (or one’s second or third or fourth job) is very rarely one’s life-long career. People without higher education face new hurdles now that manufacturing jobs are drying up and well-paying blue-collar work is increasingly difficult to find. That’s a very different economy from the one my grandparents and parents faced. Toss an economic recession into the mix and it’s not hard to see why people aren’t chomping at the bit to make life-long financial commitments to another person when they can barely support themselves — especially in a culture where conservative views on marriage demand that the man is the breadwinner, and that he can support a wife and children.
I'm not convinced that there's a dating or a marriage crisis. Hymowitz is just giving voice to the tired old Sex-and-the-City stereotype of the successful single woman struggling to find a datable man. But just because something rings true to stereotype doesn't make it true.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Girls Just Wanna Have Guns. Then All the Rape Will Stop, Right?


Remember Hannah Giles? Well, her sister, Regis Giles, is getting a new show about her shooting guns. Also, apparently she doesn't believe men and women should be equal. Read my interview with her on Campus Progress from when I tracked her down at CPAC last week.
Regis Giles, who spoke on the student activism panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference Friday, comes from a family of conserative activists. You've most likely heard of her sister, Hannah Giles, who partnered with James O'Keefe in videos that helped bring down ACORN. Her father, Doug Giles, is the host of Clash Radio and spokesperson for "family values." But Regis is branching out on her own, with a new television show in the works called "Primal Urge" in the works on the Pursuit Channel. Campus Progress caught up with Regis to talk aobut her current project,, her upcoming television show, and why she doesn't identify as a feminist.

Tell me a little bit about your website [].

My website has my logo on it. In my speech you know, it's also, my company's main objective is self defense. You've seen in the news where women have been jumped and you see the security cameras where they can't do anything. You see them shoved in their cars, ducking down. If they had a gun on them. That would've been a little bit different. If they would've had a gun on them, their life would've been a lot different. They wouldn't have that horrible experience of actually being raped or abducted or even killed. That's what my company stands for.

Attacks on Women From All Directions

(Flickr/Claus Rebler)

K, so sorry guys. I totally dropped the ball on blogging this week. But that's because there's crazy shit going down! And it seemed really overwhelming to point out all the effed up stuff that's happening in the world this week. So, for you're benefit, I've put it all together in one place:
Weeks like this make me mad that I know about all this awful stuff that's happening in the world. What else made you mad this week?

What Daymar College Tells Us About the Gainful Employment Rule

I have a piece up on Campus Progress on a school called Daymar College, which shows some of what's wrong with the for-profit education industry. Check it out:
Welcome to Daymar College, located in Owensboro, Ky. Students at Daymar pay $36,979 per year to attend the institution, and 97 percent of its students receive some type of financial aid. Pell grants, which go to low-income U.S. students, are distributed to 73 percent of those attending Daymar.

The most popular program at Daymar is its 12-18 month program to train pharmacy technicians/assistants, a job that, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pays a median salary of $13.32 an hour. At that rate, assuming a graduate of the program can get full-time employment as a pharmacy technician and work 40 hours a week, he or she will make $27,705 a year.

But that’s just for students who actually graduate. Daymar College’s overall graduation rate is just 38 percent, according to its own self-reported data provided to the Department of Education. That means that means that just four in ten students have completed a one-year program in 18 months.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Hey guys, I'm going to be busy reporting from CPAC for Campus Progress today and tomorrow. Check out what I'm posting here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Natalie Portman's 'Zigzag' Career

(Flickr/Mira (on the wall))

Yesterday Slate ran this long and thoughtful piece by Nathan Heller that speculated on Natalie Portman's rather zig-zaggy career.
Five-foot-three, credentialed at Harvard, and equipped with a smile so startlingly intimate it seems to call for special MPAA mention, Portman cuts a strange path through the field of Hollywood celebrity. It's not because of her biography per se: A lot of movie actors go to fancy schools, and even more wear many hats over the course of their public lives. What sets Portman apart is her puzzling ambitions. Though she's spent nearly 20 years under klieg lights, the career she has been reaching for is a mystery. During a single visit to Cannes a few years back, Portman promoted both Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith and Free Zone, a tiny bilingual Amos Gitai production shot in Israel and Jordan on a shoestring budget. Her public taste and personality flickers between a celebrity's glib superficiality and an artist's sedulousness. (Asked once for some books that influenced her in O: The Oprah Magazine, she directed readers to a midcareer Robert Hass poetry collection.) In an industry that rests in large part on the strength of public image, it remains unclear whether Portman is a daughter of the red carpet, striking a pose of highbrow devotion, or a cerebral small-film artist who got dragged into the blockbuster machine.

In fact, this difficulty in pinning down Portman's goals is the key to understanding her career. Although she's often said to carry the anachronistic charms of Audrey Hepburn, Portman is, almost more than anyone else, a star born of this moment. The zigzags and juxtapositions of her work echo her generation's unsettled aspirations; their resonance across the board is crucial to her image both on-screen and in the mainstream eye. Widely driven but impossible to pin down, Portman has brought a new style of ambition into public stardom.


Confusion about where Portman stands in her ambitions isn't, in fact, just a function of her own path. It's an ambiguity extending through the upper strata of her generation. Portman's peers make up a demographic widely perceived as a legion of overdriven dilettantes, a group of young people alternately pushed to wild multispecialization by some unknown inner fire and stunted by an incapacity to choose among those paths. The demographic archetypes are well-known: bleary students working well past midnight at the college newspaper, then rising before dawn for sports; thirtysomething strivers who have changed careers three times trying to find their gold-paved boulevard and forestalled adult life as a result. The trouble here is not ambition (that's a given) but committing to a goal for that drive: Is the point to hit virtuoso's stride in art, in influence, in public service? If many of us feel a closer affinity to Portman than we do to other movie stars, it's not purely because she seems to drink less deeply of the Hollywood well. She is a public figure whose attempts to be all things while committing her soul to none—to draw millions at the box office, to be a fearless small-film artist, to turn her education toward social good—echoes the conflict in our own ambitious drives, our need to keep every iron burning hot for fear of losing our glow. She's replaced an older form of movie-star restlessness (the kind that zoomed toward nothing but the spotlight and that made a mess of lives) with a new one.

It's not that Heller attributes such qualities to Portman's generation, per se. It's more that he seems to miss some analysis. While Portman's over achievement and sporadic goals is certainly a product of her generation (of which I probably classify as a part), it's that she's under the additional pressure of being a woman in this generation.

Much has been made of the high-achieving young woman, who simply wants to be the best and will work extremely hard to achieve it. Courtney Martin wrote a book about how this pressure among teenage girls can result in eating disorders. Liz Funk also interviewed women she classified as "super girls," over-achieving young women who sought to be the best at whatever they could be, for her book on the subject. I don't know a ton about Natalie Portman's personal life since I don't follow her career super closely ("No Strings Attached"? No thank you.), but she pretty neatly fits into this trope.

Though I generally thing this phenomenon is a tad oversold -- and when it does exist it tends to be among a certain class of young women -- there's little doubt that many of today's young women are under astonishing pressure. The pressure is incredible for young women to be smart, beautiful, deferential, organized, and any number of other things. But they're expected to be the best at each of them. At least -- that's the stereotype that's presented, and stereotypes are powerful, too.

Portman seems to have adjusted more or less all right -- what with the Oscar nomination and all -- but it's worth asking why these young women exist and why they feel such pressure. So long as young women are expected to achieve at everything, they will have the "zigzag" careers that Portman does.

And perhaps it's OK that Portman's career is "unfocused." I suspect if Portman were a man, she'd be lauded for exploring new characters and career paths.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Libertarian Bob Barr Pushes to Keep Higher Education Subsidies

Last week Politico published an op-ed from 2008 Libertarian Party presidential candidate and former congressman Bob Barr on the proposed gainful employment regulations proposed by the Department of Education. But Barr’s support of subsidies to for-profit schools is less surprising in light of reporting by Salon’s Justin Elliott, which noted that Barr is a law professor at John Marshall Law School in Atlanta, a for-profit educational institution. The connection is something Barr has neglected to disclose in his writings in support of the industry.

In lockstep with other opponents of the proposed regulations in recent days, Barr criticized attacked Campus Progress’ advocacy work to support greater accountability of for-profit schools.

In the Politico op-ed, Barr also attacks a report released by the Government Accountability Office last year that found some for-profit schools were deceiving students in their recruitment process. Barr zeros in on the fact that GAO released “revisions” to the report. But while GAO made revisions to the report, a spokesperson also insists they don’t change the overall findings of the report.

GAO spokesman Chuck Young wrote in an e-mail that the office issues revisions when "additional information comes to light and provides additional context to our already published work." Of the roughly 1,000 reports issued in the last fiscal year, about 12 received later revisions, he said. He added that the office reviewed more than 80 hours of audio from the investigation before it released the revision on the for-profit college report.

"Nothing changed with the overall message of the report, and nothing changed with any of our findings," Young wrote.

But because the GAO made revisions, many for-profit lobbyists are seizing upon this as means of discrediting the entire report.

At its base, the “gainful employment” regulations issue is about curbing wasteful spending – the regulations promise to cut federal funding from programs that leave students with high default rates or too much debt compared with their earnings. While Campus Progress has been focused on eliminating spending for bad programs to ensure more aid to successful programs, curbing government subsidies more generally is something libertarians normally get behind. In fact, in 2005 the libertarian think tank Cato Institute released a study in which they argue, “Rather than expand the current system, Congress should consider a phase-out of federal assistance to higher education over a 12-year time frame.”

Barr seems to have abandoned his libertarian ideas in this case, where the interests of his employer are at stake.

Cross posted.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Survey of Users Says Feminism Is Working


According to an article in LiveScience, a new survey of users finds some counter-intuitive responses from the men and women surveyed. Among its findings:
  • Among people who didn't already have a child, 24 percent of men wanted to have children compared to 15 percent of women;
  • When asked whether women should be the primary caregivers of children in a family, 49 percent of women said no while 38 percent of men said the same;
  • Among singles ages 21 to 34, 62 percent said they wanted to get married, 9 percent definitely didn't want to get married, and 29 percent aren't sure.
According to article author Stephanie Pappas, "echo[s] earlier national surveys that reveal ambivalence toward marriage." I think this is generally due to an overall trend toward finding a the right partner for a marriage rather than simply placing sole emphasis on tying the knot. It's a hard attitude to shake -- and many women still feel the pressure to settle down with someone with less emphasis on finding a supportive long-term partnership.

The article even quotes Stephanie Coontz, who wrote Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage and a new book on the effects of Betty Friedan's book, The Feminine Mystique, called A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s (which, by the way, I can't wait to read). Coontz credits the de-stigmatization of singlehood.

Though the survey is far from hard-hitting science, since it relies on a self-selected sample of users of one particular dating service, it does suggest some changing attitudes among people who are interested in dating. The fact that more men and women are both indicating shifting attitudes from what was standard in the 1950s and '60s means that at least to some degree, the idea of gender equality -- also known as feminism -- is working. True, we haven't yet reached the point at which all men and women agree child rearing isn't mainly the responsibility of the woman, but we are at a point where nearly half of women believe that and a significant portion of men do.

Many times when various individuals offer dating advice, one of the key things they point out is that you should be on the same page about major life decisions or it will ultimately end up as a difficult -- or even bad -- partnership. The point about whose responsibility child rearing is seems like an important thing to be on the same page about.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Links: What Can We Learn from the Gosnell Case?

A counter protester outside Richmond Women's Medical Center in 2007. (Flickr/taberandrew)

Obama Flip-Flops on The Family at National Prayer Breakfast

Today I have a piece up over at Religion Dispatches on the National Prayer Breakfast since Obama seems to have forgotten it's run by the Fellowship Foundation, an organization with shadowy connections to anti-gay legislation in Uganda.
At last year’s National Prayer Breakfast, the President Obama used his platform to slam the event’s organizers, the Fellowship Foundation, or “The Family,” for its alleged involvement in lobbying for virulently anti-gay legislation in Uganda. “We may disagree about gay marriage,” said the president, “but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are—whether it’s here in the United States or, as Hillary [Clinton] mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.”

At yesterday’s Breakfast, however, Obama’s speech was notable not for what he said, since he focused much on his personal faith journey, a theme of bipartisanship, and reiteration of his faith as a Christian. Instead, the speech was interesting for what he didn’t say. Some pro-LGBT activists were surprised to see that he attended the breakfast again at all after the previous year’s criticism of the organizers; but not only did Obama attend this year’s event but he made no mention of the ongoing controversies surrounding the event’s organizers whose involvement in Uganda has once again entered headlines after the killing of Ugandan LGBT activist David Kato.

The assailant admitted to killing Kato with a hammer after he agreed to accept money in exchange for sex. Uganda has been debating a piece of legislation that, if passed, would increase the severity of the punishment for homosexuality to death or life imprisonment, which some say has been introduced by at least one member of the Fellowship.

Read more ...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Birth Control Coverage May Soon Come Without a Co-Pay

(Flickr/brains the head)

Today the New York Times reports that things are looking up for pro-choice advocates who hope to have birth control classified as preventative care under the Affordable Care Act.
Administration officials said they expected the list to include contraception and family planning because a large body of scientific evidence showed the effectiveness of those services. But the officials said they preferred to have the panel of independent experts make the initial recommendations so the public would see them as based on science, not politics.
Making birth control more affordable (that is, without a co-pay under the Affordable Care Act) makes sense when you consider how insurance companies have been putting financial pressure on women:
Brand-name versions of oral contraceptives can cost $45 to $60 a month or more, not including the cost of a doctor visit for a prescription. In recent years, many health plans have increased co-payments for prescription drugs, so even women with insurance may end up paying half the cost of birth-control pills.
While there has been some anticipation among pro-choice advocates that birth control would be classified as such, the push to classify birth control as preventative care has generated some controversy -- mostly in the form of protests from extreme anti-choice groups like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (prominent lobbyists favoring the Stupak amendment) and the Family Research Council (which has recently been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center).

But much as these groups have managed to use their influence on issues of abortion, birth control may be an issue that they've already lost on.

According to Guttmacher Institute data, more than 99 percent of all women ages 15-44 who have had sex use at least one form of contraception. The data also estimates that only 7 percent of women are at risk of unintended pregnancy but aren't using some form of contraception. Additionally, 63 percent of sexually active women use some form of what is called temporary birth control (hormonal contraceptions like the pill, the patch, or the NuvaRing, as well as an IUD or condoms). More than 30 percent rely on some form of sterilization.

The number of women actively using some form of birth control while sexually active is so great that the notion of opposing birth control seems crazy or outlandish. And it is. Allowing women to have more control over their bodies through family planning is better for maternal and child health. Pretending otherwise is simply ignoring what's good public policy and good science.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Lila Rose's Video Is Part of a Long-Running Campaign to De-fund Planned Parenthood

(Flickr/Pro-Life Unity)

Lila Rose is a 22-year-old planned anti-choice activist for the group Live Action, and she's been getting much attention for some recent videos that supposedly "expose" Planned Parenthood as an organization that will do nothing to stop human trafficking (presumably because they're so busy forcing abortions on women).

This particular anti-choice attack starts with a post on Big Government, Andrew Breitbart's most prominent site that has a history of posting videos that allege wrongdoing by progressive organizations but usually end up proven false, in which Rose posted a heavily edited video in which "undercover investigators" dressed up as a prostitute and a pimp (sound familiar?) enter a Planned Parenthood facility and ask for advice on sexual health. The implication of Rose's video is that Planned Parenthood is an evil organization that will help others in the exploitation of women. But after Rose's story broke, it was revealed that Planned Parenthood had a record of reporting the suspected traffickers to the FBI, which Rose's video alleges never happened.

As Jason Linkins writes:
Planned Parenthood may have a single staffer whose actions need to be called into question. And so, that staffer is being called to accounts. Other than that, Planned Parenthood is an organization that, if it catches a whiff of some illegal activity, gets the FBI involved as quickly as possible, even when they suspect that they are being subjected to a hoax.
Planned Parenthood released a statement that said, "Phyllis Kinsler, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Central New Jersey (PPCNJ), has stated that, ‘the behavior of our employee, as portrayed on the video, if accurate, violates PPCNJ policies, as well as our core values of protecting the welfare of minors and complying with the law, and appropriate action is being taken.’"

But what is important to understand is that Rose's video is part of a longstanding effort by anti-choice activists to defund Planned Parenthood. Because Planned Parenthood is the most well-known name among women for family planning and abortion services, anti-choice activists figure that shutting down the organization will somehow stop abortions (it won't).

And what's so horrifying about this strategy is that it has been reasonably effective. Planned Parenthood has been pushing to increase Title X family planning funding. But though President Barack Obama's 2011 budget includes an increase of $19.2 million in family planning funding, "funding has not kept pace with inflation, and more than 17 million women are in need of publicly funded family planning services," a Planned Parenthood statement on the proposed 2010 budget reads.

But what anti-choicers like Rose may not realize is that their biggest enemy, Planned Parenthood, exists largely due to the effects of some of the policies for which they advocate. As anti-choicers pass legislation that further cripples regular doctors from providing abortion and other family planning services (as well as adds stigma and threats to abortion providers [PDF]), Planned Parenthood becomes what many women think of as the sole resource for family planning -- and often basic health care.

For many women, Planned Parenthood may be the only place they can turn to for help with family planning and other forms of health care. According to a 2003 study, nearly 40 percent of women use a visit to the ob-gyn as their primary care. Nine percent listed no primary care physician. A survey conducted in November showed [PDF] that 71 percent of voters oppose cutting funding for Planned Parenthood. Granted, Planned Parenthood isn't perfect -- such a large organization will inevitably have some bad actors, but for many women their local Planned Parenthood is their only option for accessing birth control, abortion, and basic health care.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

PETA Sucks Yet Again

(Flickr/Antoon's Foobar)

People who have read feminist blogs are aware that PETA sucks. Like, really sucks. Every so often, they release another marketing campaign that does some combination of the following:
  • objectifies women,
  • somehow suggests animals are more valuable than people (specifically women), and/or
  • lacks any substantive discussion of what good food policy might be.
This year's PETA ad they're trying to air during the Superbowl is no different. As Jill at Feministe pointed out, women are more likely to be vegetarian than men, so it's unclear why PETA is working so hard to alienate women.

It's no secret that PETA engages in these tactics because they hope to generate free press -- i.e. news articles about the controversy -- to get their name out because they, like other nonprofits have a limited budget. They probably pat themselves on the back when an ad campaign generates an enraged post on Feministing or Feministe. Still, I honestly tire of this debate. Maybe if they offered up reasonable alternatives to meat -- or approached adults as, well, adults, they'd have better traction to their message.

Honestly, ads like this make me want to help myself to a pork chop.

Joining the #dearjohn Campaign


Last week I wrote about how terrible the proposed "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion" bill is. Sady at Tiger Beatdown has a nice bulleted list of all the awful things the bill would do.

Granted, it's unlikely to make its way to the Senate or President Barack Obama's desk, but for those who want to raise a stink about how terrible it is that the sponsors of this bill are interested in redefining the word to include "forced rape" only, Deanna Zant has a wonderful guide on getting involved in an online campaign:

Tweets with the #dearjohn hashtag should convey one or more of the following:

  • A sense of urgency about sexual assault and reproductive rights.
  • A personal story–storytelling is what gets to people, not isolated facts and figures.
  • Deep conviction. You don’t have to tell your story to be authentic, but your words should be your own.
The thing here is that redefining what rape means -- by using a phrase that doesn't appear anywhere in the criminal code -- is bad public policy. Regardless of your specific feelings on abortion, passing a law in which a woman must have the shit beaten out of her for it to count as rape isn't good for anyone.
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