Archive for the ‘Gender’ Category

Sexism and the campaign

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

Blogging while I watch the election results come in from New Hampshire.  Clinton’s still leading Obama with a bit under 1/3 of the results in so far.  If she wins, it will be really interesting to see the analyses of why the polling over the last few days was so far off.

The Steinem piece on Hillary has been getting a lot of play today.  I think she’s completely right that Hillary has been the object of a great deal of sexism — from the constant refrain that she’s "shrill" and "strident" to the obsession with her appearance and the damned if you do, damned if you don’t coverage of her emotions.

That said, I do think the campaign has highlighted the degree to which
sexism continues to permeate the environment, at a time when overt
racism has become clearly unacceptable, at least in high-level
politics.  Obama’s been the subject of some nasty anti-Muslim comments
(even though he’s Christian), but other than the people who keep
calling him "articulate",* there’s been very little racism in the
campaign so far.  (But I still think racism probably does more to hold
people back on the US overall than sexism.  Some other day, I need to
blog about the Pew findings on race, gender and intergenerational

[CNN just said that their exit polling is showing more support for Clinton from women in NH than they saw in IA.  If so, I think that may well be driven by the blatant sexism of the news coverage of the past few days — from the headlines, I thought that she had burst into tears and been unable to continue, rather than having a hitch in her voice.]

But I think Steinem’s overstating the degree to which sexism is driving the results so far, as opposed to people’s real enthusiasm for Obama.  Yes, it’s improbable that a woman with Obama’s bio could be a serious candidate for president. But it’s also totally improbably that he’s a serious candidate for president.  And it’s not fair, but that’s part of his appeal.

I also think that when Steinem includes "powerful fathers" along with "sex, race, money.. and paper degrees" in the things that shouldn’t be driving our choices, it’s more than a bit disingenuous for her not to include "famous husbands" in the litany.

*  "Articulate" is a compliment when you’re talking about a teenager, or someone you’re interviewing for their first job.  When applied to an adult who has been elected to political office, it’s either damning with faint praise or code for "he doesn’t sound black."

[AP and CNN are calling New Hampshire for Clinton.  Judging by my disappointment, I’m officially off the fence.]

The age gap

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

I’m fascinated by the almost non-existence of a gender gap among Iowa caucus goers.  According to these CNN numbers, Obama was supported by 35 percent of both men and women.  Clinton drew 30 percent of women voters, 23 percent of men.  Meanwhile, there was a huge age gap, with Obama supported by 57 percent of the youngest voters, but only 18 percent of the oldest.

I can’t find the stats online, but during the caucus-night coverage, I heard statistics that suggested there was  also a huge age gradient if you look only at women.  I’ve heard explanations for this ranging from "young voters aren’t nostalgic about the Clinton presidency" to "young women don’t approve of standing-by-your-man".  But I think this is much more a comment on what feminism is today.

Whether it’s because we’ve been told all our life that women could do anything, or because we’ve seen for ourselves that having women in positions of power doesn’t change everything (e.g. Margaret Thatcher, Condi Rice), my sense is that young women (Gen X and Y) are much less likely than our mothers (Boomers and older) to think that feminism means we should automatically support a female candidate. 

(see also Jody at Raising WEG on her family’s different takes on Hillary.)

Get Women Elected Now!

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

I spent this evening at a meeting for GWEN — Get Women Elected Now.  It’s a local group with the goal of supporting progressive female candidates in Northern Virginia.  It’s obviously somewhat inspired by EMILY’s List, but aiming to build personal connections as well as raise money.  One of the founders is Libby Garvey, and she’s very clearly thinking about the gendered paths to political involvement that I wrote about two years ago when she wrote for delegate.

It was quite an interesting group of people, including several current and former elected officials.  Two men, the rest women.  I’d guess that most of the people there were in their 50s or older, although there were a few younger members.  Garvey mentioned that someone had emailed her asking about child care at the meeting (which was not provided).  There was clearly a hunger for ways to be involved that didn’t involve writing checks, and that were more substantive than stuffing envelopes or making calls.

I volunteered to update their website for them.  As T said when I told him, "of course you did."

Emily’s List

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Are any of you Emily’s List members?  Did you used to be?

I keep getting letters and emails from Emily’s List, asking me to rejoin.  I’m still very sympathetic to their overall mission, but am disinclined to sign up at the moment.

First, I feel like I no longer need a group like Emily’s List in order to identify candidates in other states who are worthy of my support.  Since I’ve never lived in what could be called a swing state — and rarely even lived in a district with a competitive Congressional race — I liked the idea of being able to make a difference in a race that might matter.  I still like the idea, but am more likely to send money to a candidate who someone I trust blogs about than to one endorsed by Emily’s List.

Second, I feel like they’ve so totally drunk the Hillary kool-aid as to lose credibility for me.  I’m not a Hillary-hater, and I’ll vote for her with enthusiasm if she’s the nominee, but she’s not my first choice candidate.  And when they run a major feature on Myths about Hillary Clinton and say "Hillary has repeatedly said that if she had all the facts when she voted for the initial authorization for the war… she would not have voted in favor of the Iraq resolution," my response is to think that maybe if she had read the national intelligence
, she would have had more of the facts.

I think I’m putting my money into the Women’s Campaign Forum instead.

Women and nonprofit wages

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

I’m giving a talk tomorrow night at a networking event about women and the nonprofit sector, particularly some studies that have found that a) women are the majority of workers in nonprofits but b) women still earn less than men.  Most of the attendees are likely to be in their early to mid 20s, without kids. 

I’ll talk about how women are less likely to negotiate, more likely to expect (wrongly) that hard work will be noticed and rewarded even if they don’t.  But I also want to talk about the work-family stuff that I cover here.  I’m going to say that I think women are more likely to choose jobs based on satisfaction, less on an expectation that they’ll be supporting a family.   And that by accepting less money, they’re also reducing their bargaining power in relationships down the road.  And I also want to mention the roles of unpaid internships and student loans in affecting the options that are open to you.

Any suggestions?  Good stories that I can use?  Advice that you wish someone had told you?


Monday, May 21st, 2007

I’m interested in the various blog posts about The Dangerous Book for Boys.  The ones I’ve read seem to be divided by the ones like Moxie that are enthusiastic about the neat things that are included in it — how to tie knots and build fires and do coin tricks and use codes — and the ones like Jody and Phantom Scribbler who can’t get past their frustration at the title.

I admit that I got a review copy of the book, but never wrote about it precisely because I fell so squarely between the camps that I couldn’t figure out what to say.  It does have a lot of interesting stuff in it (along with some things that I can’t imagine my boys ever being interested in — grammar and rugby rules and historical lists of baseball MVPs).  And it does annoy me that it’s being marketed just for boys.  And if it’s true that the companion book focuses on daisy chains and sewing, that’s pretty sad/funny.

For what it’s worth, my sons are a bit young for the book, but they expressed only mild interest.  My husband scanned through it a bit, and then wanted to know how they could have a chapter of great battles in history and not include Agincourt.  The guy inspecting our old house for the buyers was fascinated by it.

I generally agree with Jody and Phantom Scribbler that words matter.  And yet…  I read my brother’s Boys’ Life, and when he stopped getting it, I asked for a subscription for myself and read it for years.  (I mostly wanted to find out what happened in the Tripods story, although I read the whole magazine as long as it was there.)  The "boys" part of the title never bothered me in the least.  Maybe it would have been more of an issue if my brother had actually been into scouting, but he didn’t.  (We lived in New York City.  I’m not sure how he wound up with the subscription in the first place, to be honest.)  The organization is exclusionary, but words are free to all.

I guess my feelings about the book are actually quite comparable to my thoughts about the Boy Scouts.  I really dislike several things about the organization.  But I may still sign the boys up when they get to the right age, if they’re interested.  And I’m probably going to keep this book.

Gender noncomformity

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

The American Prospect has a special report out on work-family issues which has a bunch of interesting articles.  Brian at RebelDad has posted quick comments on a couple of them already.

Not in the print edition, but online, the Prospect has added a response by Linda Hirshman.  While she is, as usual, gratuitously obnoxious toward anyone she disagrees with, she does make a point that I think is on target:

"even if by some miracle male employers could be
persuaded to enact the reforms discussed, without a real change in
women’s attitudes about the family most of the effect would be to make
it easier for women to continue to bear their excessive share of an
unjust household. And allow the women to think they chose it!"

In their discussion of a recent conference on Rethinking Gender Egalitarianism, Laura at 11d and Harry at Crooked Timber responded to a similar point made at the conference — that things like paid parental leave are an obstacle to gender egalitarianism, because they are disproportionately taken by mothers rather than fathers.  Laura and Harry argue that parenting is not a "shit job" (as Hirshman clearly believes), but rather a source of great fulfillment for many people and that if barriers are removed, men will voluntarily take on more domestic responsibilities and joys.

I don’t think parenting is a shit job, or one that makes your brain rot.  But I also think that it’s almost certainly true that absent a massive societal shift or highly prescriptive government policy, family friendly policies probably would increase the gender gap.  Because, as Rhona Mahoney explains, every choice you make changes the hand that you have when you make the next set of decisions.  And unless we get to the point that working fewer hours or taking time off from work has zero career cost (which seems unlikely anytime soon), it’s always going to make sense for the person who has already stepped off the fast track to be the one to accommodate the other’s career.  And because of both biology (pregnancy and breastfeeding) and gender ideology, the one taking that first step off is far more likely to be a woman. 

Mahoney also makes the interesting suggestion that this is a tipping point phenomenon; e.g that if SAHDs were more common, more men would make that choice.  And on that note, I have to point out the Colbert report piece on SAHDs.  (And a look behind the scenes.)

TBR: James Tiptree, Jr.

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

In his 1975 introduction to Warm Worlds and Otherwise, by James Tiptree, Jr.  Robert Silverberg hypothesized about the reclusive author, who was the subject of widespread speculation in the sci-fi world.  In what has become the most famous passage, Silverberg wrote:

"It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing.  I don’t think the novels of Jane Austen could have been written by a man nor the stories of Ernest Hemingway by a woman, and in the same way I believe the author of the James Tiptree stories is male."

The passage is famous, of course, because behind the name of James Tiptree, Jr., the author was indeed a woman, as became widely known a few years later. 

This week’s book is a biography of that woman: James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, by Julie Phillips.  I’m usually not terribly interested in writers’ biographies, which are usually far less interesting than their writing, but this is an exception.  Sheldon’s life was every bit as fascinating as her writing — including a childhood that included safaris to Africa, an elopement with the man who sat next to her at her debut, a stint in the WACs and one in the CIA, a PhD in the psychology of perception — and Phillips does a fine job of taking the reader through it all.

Much to my surprise, I finished the book far more sympathetic to Silverberg’s mistake than I started it.  Phillips argues, convincingly, that Tiptree was far more than a pseudonym to Sheldon, but a full-fledged persona.  She quotes Sheldon as believing that there were two sexes — men and mothers — and she was neither.  As Tiptree she wrote with a confident voice that she couldn’t claim on her own, and she also engaged in long correspondences with other sci-fi writers and fans (including Ursula LeGuin and Joanna Russ).  When she was finally unmasked, she came somewhat unmoored, and struggled to find her writing voice again.

It is often hard to see clearly how gender roles and constraints affected individual women by reading their biographies.  Most women either lived within the expectations of their times, rarely bumping up against the limits, or were the extraordinary exceptions who don’t seem to have noticed that there were any limits.  What makes Sheldon fascinating is that she seems to have spent her life crossing the limits and then getting cold feet, trying to conform but bursting out.  In an early chapter on her boarding school experience, Phillips writes:

"Alice had the bad luck to be extremely pretty.  If she hadn’t been, she might have given up the popularity contest.  She might have studied harder, prepared for a career, and not cared what people thought.  She and the other awkward, bright girls might have been friends.  Instead she cared about appearances, practiced femininity and flirtation, and got addicted to the reward for being a pretty girl."

This pattern seems to have stayed with her for much of her life.  But forty years later, being Tiptree let her escape all that.

This was one of the Times notable books of the year.  It’s also one of my picks for the best books I read in 2006.

biology and gender

Monday, August 21st, 2006

Alan commented on my review of Get to Work with a link to his critique of Hirshman’s essay.  I promptly clicked over, and have to admit that he nearly lost me with the first paragraph, which begins:

"Ms. Hirshman, your complaint, strangely enough, makes me think of Henry Higgins’ lament, "Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” You refuse to consider that it may be differences in women’s and men’s brains (differences which evolved over eons–look into evolutionary psychology or sociobiology sometime) that account for some of their differences in behavior."

I have a pretty solid knee-jerk antagonistic reaction to sociobiological arguments.   After a moment, I realized I was doing almost exactly what I had accused Hirshman of — dismissing the argument because some (many? most?) of the people who make it are conservative anti-feminists.

I do think the science behind sociobiology is extraordinarily weak.  The fossil and artifact record tells us very little about how our ancestors organized their lives.  It’s a field where people seem to miraculously find confirmation of whatever they believed going in.  You find people arguing that women are biologicially wired to care more about housecleaning because they’ve got keener senses and people arguing that women are biologically wired not to notice how bad poopy diapers smell.  And Newt Gingrich arguing that men are biologically wired to wallow in the mud and hunt giraffes.

I also don’t think that you need to rely on sociobiology to explain gender differences in behavior.  For example, Rhonda Mahony does a perfectly good job of explaining how pregnancy, breastfeeding, and maternity leave can give mothers a "head start" in attachment to babies, which leads to decisions that perpetuate the inbalance. 

In yesterday’s post, Deborah Tannen reviewed a new book, The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine.  She concludes her review: " But given the character — and rancor — of our dichotomous approach to the influences of biology and culture, readers likely will be fascinated or angered, convinced or skeptical, according to the positions they have staked out already."

While I’m skeptical of sociobiology, I do believe, as I’ve said before, that estrogen and testosterone do affect our brains as well as our bodies.  I’ll see if I can get the book out of the library.

TBR: Money, A Memoir

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Today’s book is Money, A Memoir: Women, Emotions, and Cash, by Liz Perle.   Perle’s personal story is a zinger — she quit her job and moved to Singapore with her four-year-old son, only to be told by her husband that he wanted a divorce.  She writes about her learning, the hard way, that marrying wealth doesn’t really buy you security, and the freedom she found in learning that she could survive her worst nightmare.  When she remarries, and her new husband asks if it’s a problem for her that he isn’t financially secure, she has the insight to answer that she likes to feel taken care of, and that she’s spent a long time associating that with money.  That’s a nice, hard won, distinction.

Unfortunately, only a small part of Money, A Memoir, is actualy a memoir.  Mostly it’s a mushy pop-psychology book about how women are still looking for Prince Charming to rescue them from having to make tough financial choices.  There are some nice lines — I liked Chelle Campbell’s definition of the "emotional middle class" as "somebody who feels she still needs to strive to make ends meet but who has a lot of nice things so she feels she can’t really complain too much" — but not much substance. 

Perle is also oddly judgmental in some places.  When she hears that a former slow-track father of her acquaintance has taken an editor in chief position, where he travels a lot, she is "crestfallen," rather than glad that he’s had the opportunity to focus on his family and now is trying something else.   At the same time, she is highly critical of an artist who was reluctant to take a regular job when he and his wife had a baby, accepting at face value his wife’s complaint that he was "irresponsible" for the same characteristics she had previously valued.

Perle writes well, and the book is a quick read.  But it left me unsatisfied.  I’d rather have heard more about Perle’s own story — even if she didn’t open her check register, as Sandra Tsing Loh suggests.