Saturday, March 7, 2009

Toughen up, boys and girls: rough times ahead

by Chris Moses

From the bloated bombast of Rush Limbaugh to the fashion runways of Milan, the message is clear. Toughen up. The economy is crashing and we don’t have time for namby-pamby folly, the softer side of human character.

Try to help others and see what you get, Rush belches to his adulating listeners—failure. Failure for Barack Obama and his everyone-will-be-ok socialism. Designers give women comfort over sheer elegance yet stress the perseverance of edginess, the even greater demands placed on the shoulders of those slim and sexy ladies who can still turn heads with outfits that cost more than the average human’s annual salary.

Gaul for all is our revolutionary slogan. Perilous economic suffering be damned.

There’s little surprise that the Republican ‘party of no’ reverts to arguments for strong character, unflinching will and self-determined accomplishment as an antidote to contemporary profligacy. What’s startling is their forgetfulness that (a) they were in charge, supposedly heralding this very ideology, while the current mess developed and, (b) their notion of sacrificial success actually enables the salary-as-happiness, spend-and-be-redeemed capitalism that directly undercuts simple yeomanly self-reliance.

Even if you’re making $7.50 an hour, carrying your guns in the rack of a late model Ford pick-up, the dream is to puff a cigar while shooting from a helicopter, Palin-style, on a luxury safari. Indeed it was the six-figure fashion of the just-like-you simple lady governor that created a contradiction so big as to collapse the party fiction.

Not so far behind this reversionary rhetoric lies a strict set of assumptions about individual wherewithal, all of which align to strict notions of gender conformity. Nothing is so strong as ideas of strength in defining what makes men and women. Eve’s fickleness collapses Adam’s will; the seductress of credit distracts men from true value; and shop-til-you-drop femininity undercuts hard-earned, hard-cut male labor.

So calls to toughen up deserve a great deal of scrutiny. Men face increased pressures in an economy contracting around work like manufacturing and construction. Not only for their own pride should we be worried: idle hands, especially those frustrated about a lack of power, virulence and productivity can too often find dangerous, unhealthy or even criminal outlets for their frustration. Not for nothing have wars countered depressions and recessions—by creating new jobs, but also by sending hoards of un- and under-employed young men to their slaughter.

Surely better solutions exist: I hear within calls for a green revolution much of the same battle-hard rhetoric used for brining men to arms. Soldiers against carbon will prove beneficial for the common good, but such an economic front must be opened as a way to scrutinize and reorganize our cumbersome sexual division of labor. (Remember those debates about women—and gays—in the military?)

So much energy has gone into lamenting that we make the wrong thing; that our banks have failed us; that macroeconomic management must increase along with greater corporate regulation—amidst all these big-picture analyses, shockingly little has been said about who does what and how. Economies begin and end with people or, more properly, homes: the very word derives from oikos, ‘household,’ in Greek. Hence the more familiar sounding Latin oeconomia. And no one can avoid the powerful role of gender around the house—the rest of the world is built from here on up.

We’re currently confronting the largest economic disruption and transformation since the sexual revolution but very little thought has been given as to how this drastic social change has effected our economy—and in turn, the ways we might fix it.

All the blame shouldn’t fall on conservative, turn-back-the-clock strategies for returning men and women to the social positions imagined as having made the past better than the present.

Liberals too have skirted issues of gender by the time-tested strategy of homogenizing difference and calling for improvement in the broadest terms. Big-swath betterment is surely more appealing (to me at least) than a world of Hobbesian competition. Though it can approach a kind of lump-together lunacy: in his address to Congress President Obama heralded a tax cut for 95% of working families as if being able to say such a big number was more important than addressing the astounding diversity behind this creative math. Not least does poverty—real, hard and fast, enduring poverty—get lost in the rhetoric of the middle class; so too does it obscure our vision for a more equitable future beyond the first world, where stratification and gender inequality is at its greatest.

One need not accept the loathful extremes Milton Friedman stylizes as Capitalism and Freedom to appreciate that economic participation connects instrumentally to expressions of personal liberty and human rights. For women and men to share fully in these opportunities requires concerted effort and not mere pronouncement. It requires scrutiny of basic economic assumptions about competition, ‘rational choice’ and the goals and nature of prosperity.

So rather than toughen up, let hard-headed ideas of strength wizen away. Instead draw from feminist creativity to envision a future based upon gender equity and a conviction that success for the often male few need not mean subservience for the frequently female many. That’s the best industry with which we can put the world back to work.

Friday, March 6, 2009

More on octomom

by Elizabeth Winkler

Back to Nadya Suleman again. I know we’ve just about blogged this woman to the grave, but when you consider that, I can’t help but think it’s because she presents such an intriguing and explicit instance of the intersection between the personal and the political. In her case, feminism’s frequent demand to “keep government off my body” (or out of the bedroom, or whatever) becomes questionable. At a certain point, do we need to have the government regulating our bodies?

Because, let’s be honest: in society, politics is on everyone’s bodies in one form or another. It is quite an inescapable reality, and so the demand for the government to “back off” becomes somewhat silly and naïve. After all, in insisting that birth control and abortion be made personal choices (ie: in which the government can’t interfere), we have actually employed the channels of government and politics that many women simultaneously yelp against. In those cases, government has been “put on” our bodies in order to protect personal choice, and without that governmental interference, the right to contraception and abortion might not exist.

If Nadya Suleman had wanted to adopt those 8 children, her request would have without a doubt been denied on every level. It’s a difficult enough process for a financially and emotionally stable couple, let alone a bankrupt, unemployed woman with 6 children already (and a history of mental instability to boot). Those children will grow up neglected (with a 14-1 ratio, this isn’t even up for debate), will likely suffer all sorts of physical and mental deficiencies as they develop, and will drain the resources of the public because of Suleman’s hugely irresponsible and selfish decision. (Irresponsible because having 14 children when you have no job and no finances cannot be anything but; selfish because in her desperate desire for 14 children, Suleman failed to consider the consequences for those children’s lives as well as for those who would be forced to help fund her irresponsibility.)

As such, this situation begs the question whether the government should get itself “on” women’s bodies and fast. Of course, it’s on them already, but should the government regulate decisions like Suleman’s? If she wouldn’t have been allowed to adopt 8 children, should she have been implanted with 8 embryos? In debating this, a distinction must be made between natural conception, which the government cannot practically regulate, and fertility treatment. For the safety and health of the woman, the children, and the pockets of taxpayers, should there be a limit to the number of embryos a woman using IVF carries?

A victims' victory

by Laura Smith-Gary

The Supreme Court says (even Alito says!) that criminals guilty of domestic violence can't own guns! Hurray!

The Supreme Court of the United States recently ruled that persons convicted of violence against someone with whom they have a domestic relationship are restricted from owning guns. If you read the case, it's not about gun rights, per se, nor about domestic violence per se -- it's about the intentions of Congress in passing a law that was apparently worded very badly. This law placed those convicted of the misdemeanor crime of domestic violence in the same class, gun ownership wise, as felons. The problem is that a number of states don't have an offense that is specifically "domestic violence," and those arrested for dv are charged for simple battery or assault. The Supreme Court ruled, 7-2, that if a domestic relationship between perpetrator and victim was established beyond all reasonable doubt, a conviction for battery would be considered a domestic violence conviction in terms of Congress's gun law.

I am not entirely qualified to discuss the finest legal points of reading and writing a law like this -- and apparently Congress isn't either, or is just sloppy -- but I do urge everyone to read the case for themselves: here it is in its entirety.

I will, however, discuss the people who think that this ruling is all the fault of the anti-male, anti-husband and father, anti-manly-pursuits-like-shooting-things, ball-busting feminist agenda. Virulent anti-feminist Phyllis Schafly, putting in her two cents when this case was in its infancy, highlights how little this case is about gun control to her and how much it is about the importance (or unimportance) of domestic violence. Schafly is just sickened that men who have "only" been convicted of battery against a member of their household are going to be considered to be on the same level, as far as gun ownership goes, as muggers! How dare we say such a thing!

Well, I don't know about you, Ms. Schafly, but between giving a gun to a violent criminal who wants my wallet and a violent criminal who shares my bedroom and who has proven he has no compunction about hurting me, I'm going to choose the mugger every time. With the mugger, I know what to do -- throw my wallet away from me on the ground, and run like hell. The mugger will have what he/she wants, and is unlikely to try to shoot me (and unlikely to hit a running target even if he/she tried). But there's no way to appease abusers and no way to give them what they want, because what they want is absolute control over their victims. Furthermore, running doesn't always work -- victims are often hurt and or killed if and when they try to leave and abuser. (That's not even taking into account the psychological damage of victims or possible "collateral" an abuser holds in the form of children, financial resources, access to vehicles, and so on.) Give a gun to the person whose crime is centered around controlling and hurting someone over whom he/she has intimate ties? That only sounds reasonable to a person who thinks that domestic violence isn't actually a very big deal, that victims deserved it or could have prevented it, and that abusers don't actually want to harm their victims.

This ruling, U.S. vs Hayes, is important for its practical consequences: if you've been convicted of battering or assaulting a member of your household or an intimate partner, you should not have a gun. Period. It's also important, though, because it draws attention to laws surrounding domestic violence, and the still pervasive perception that domestic violence isn't a serious crime or putting its victims in extreme danger -- it's more of a slip, an accident, a result of provocation. Schafly refers to men with "clean records" being unfairly deprived of their guns after a domestic "dispute," and says feminists want to "pretend a man is a felon even when he's not." It's extremely heartening to me that Congress and now the Supreme Court have recognized domestic violence for the menace it is, and acted accordingly. We're not "pretending" poor, provoked, harmless men and women who "make mistakes" and beat their partners/children/elderly parents are felons, Schafly, we're finally acknowledging them as the dangerous criminals they are.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Church opposes abortion for 9-year-old rape victim

Fox reports that when a 9-year-old girl in Rio de Janeiro aborted twins conceived in an alleged rape by her stepfather, she "incurred excommunication" on her mother and the doctors who performed the abortion. The spokesperson for the church said, "It's the law of God: Do not kill. We consider this murder."

I suppose we shouldn't be surprised to see the church taking such an absolute position on this, but this scenario is a good test for a moral judgment about abortion; if your theory denounces a 9-year-old--whose pregnancy is the result of a rape and represents a great danger to her life--as a murderer for having an abortion, you may want to reconsider your theory.

Feminist porn? Keep searching!

by Emily Sullivan

Feminist porn. If you’re planning on asking Josh about it, space out an hour or two in your schedule. Does it really exist?

I thought I had the answer. I thought I had found it in the Suicide Girls, a website founded by a woman and a man that is popularly considered feminist. The site features alternative women—dyed, cut hair, and all sorts of body modification. Among its goals, in accordance with the title of their latest book, is redefining beauty.

Here’s what I found compelling about the Suicide Girls:

The women are perceived individuals (more so than your average porn star), if only by virtue of their body mod—they are not the indistinguishable, busty blondes of Playboy.

SG (technically) includes women of all shapes and sizes.

The women are given their own pages and blogs. The site includes a chatspace. There seems to be a real interest in making these women 3-dimensional humans, instead of just objects.

The women are sexy because they are powerful. They don’t pose with men, and some don’t take off more than their tops .

The more I talked about it, however, the more I realized it doesn’t quite hit the mark. The shitty truth is that Suicide Girl porn is the same thing as mainstream porn, just targeted at a different demographic. Solicitors of the site aren’t there because they appreciate knowing more about the women they’re jerking off to, they’re there because they like tugging it to nipples that are pierced. When the women are placed in powerful sets or poses, it harkens to S&M more than feminism.

Whether you want to call it porn or erotica, it doesn’t change the fact that women are being objectified. Each of my conversations gravitated from the Suicide Girls as feminist porn towards the ethics behind pornography in general because, I found out, the Suicide Girls do not escape any of the dilemmas that pornography brings up. The objectification of women, women marketing their bodies as a function of an abusive, patriarchal system, and the myriad of problems feminists decry apply just as much to Suicide Girls as they do to Playboy.

Keep searching, Josh!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I play soccer in high heels!

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

They like soccer in that violent, store-window-smashing, wildly intoxicated kind of way. Which is why some (and by some, I mean the New York Times) found it a little strange that during a recent premier league soccer game, the players outnumbered the spectators. The NYT admits that the weather was bad, but that this probably wasn't the reason for the low turnout - this may shock you, but - ladies were playing. Playing soccer! Which, as we all know, is a man sport.

“We’ve had men come to watch our practices and yell at our players: ‘What are you doing here? You should be at home, cooking!’ ” said Nurper Ozbar, one of the few women accredited as a soccer coach in Turkey, and the only one in Istanbul. “It’s going to take time to change this.”

And, to their credit, they're trying hard. “A lot of our work is public relations, to convince families that girls can play football,” said Erden Or, 33, the federation’s development officer for women’s soccer. But some of this convincing involves "dolling up" the women's soccer teams. And this is where the high heels come in. Logos for the league feature "a slender woman’s hand with long, red-painted fingernails cupping a soccer ball," or a soccer cleat with a stiletto heel.

Many of the teams are still searching for sponsorship, and this means that the coaches are paying out of their own pockets. And it also means that women can't think of soccer as a profession, only a hobby. But in some places, progress is being made toward a kind of Bend it Like Beckham, Turkey-style. The father of Selin, a 20-year-old striker, said that at first, "“We were worried that it would affect her posture, her character, even her sexual orientation." But when Selin was named to the national team, things changed, and now her father is a women's soccer fanatic. He's even cursing out her opponents - now, that's progress.

Via Jezebel

It's not rape if you say "surprise!"

by Laura Pedersen

Monday evening in the Mathey Dining Room, Chi Phi’s pleges, garbed in togas and ivy head wreaths, collected at the head of the hall and called the room to order.

“Here ye, here ye.” Silence.

The group introduced themselves as “ancient Greek sophists” come to bring “superfluous knowledge” to their audience. Most of their initial advice involved beer/inbreation, cutting corners in classes, and dating ‘tips’. The final comment, however, stood apart:
“It’s not rape if you say, ‘Surprise!’”

In the wake of the “1-in-4 women” college rape statistic, talking about this form of sexual violence in any context without any hint of solemnity to me and to what I believe is no insignificant number of students merits condemnation.

We were supposed to laugh, to brush it off as a joke. But Chi Phi’s toga-clad pledges approached with inappropriate levity a far weightier topic.

How college students speak about rape offers compelling, but – for me – inconclusive evidence about our perceptions. Some lingo would suggest almost a nonchalance: “That last problem set totally raped me.”

And what of the equally nonchalant response of the Mathey diners Monday night: a few chuckles, perhaps a few questioning glances, and nothing more? It was just a joke, right?

And then there’s SHARE (Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources, and Education) and Take Back the Night. Sexual violence is no myth on this campus.

This is an illegal act we are talking about.

Where do you fall?

A final frame: two little girls, under 10, were joining a parent in the dining hall that night at the table next to mine that same Monday night. I’m just glad they hadn’t made it back to their tables before Chi Phi’s stunt.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"Women's fiction": because we only read Danielle Steel

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

I don't know what I bought on Amazon that convinced them I am interested in "women's fiction". This may seem odd to you, considering that I run a feminist blog, but you haven't heard what exactly "women's fiction" is - every few months, Amazon sends me a helpful email advertising choice works such as Love in Bloom by Sheila Roberts, One Day at a Time by Danielle Steel, and of course the classic Vision in White (The Wedding Quartet, Book 1) by Nora Roberts (because of course every mention of my wedding day sends me into a tizzy of excitement...I can barely type just thinking about it!).

But seriously, there are so many things that are problematic about these ads that I doubt I can count them on two hands. Yes, Amazon is only trying to sell their books - yes, this is a particularly weak marketing ploy. But I would really, really like to think that whoever is putting these ads together has more respect for me - and my fellow females - than to assume that all we're interested in reading are book forms of the Lifetime channel.

"Mayonnaise. It's the schmaltz of our lives."

This isn't terribly just made my day. Mad Men fans watch out...Betty Draper has a competitor! And obviously it's Amy Sedaris.

Pick your pleasure - and enjoy it!

by Jordan Bubin

Nadya Suleman, her of 14 rugrats fame, was offered $1 million to star in hardcore porn, and it shouldn’t really be surprising—just a little grungy, depending on your sexual preferences. See, it’s not a matter of sexism, depending on how you define it; it’s more just a matter of the same old-fashioned objectification you hear the Anscombe society wailing about every few weeks in the Daily Prince.

Nadya can’t figure out why anyone would want to see her naked. I can’t say it’s attractive to me, but it’s pretty obvious: Because she’s the woman who cranked out 14 kids. Because she’s famous, because of that last fact. And that seems to make a fair bit of sense.

Two weeks ago, two professors breathlessly discovered that men view half-naked women as sexual objects, and hypothesized that “women may also see men as objects in some ways,” “‘perhaps in terms of male status.’” I already pointed out a whole bunch of problems with the study, but so far as this last guess seems, let’s give ‘em some credit.

Men and women objectify each other. It’s natural, and in one sense, it’s okay—that’s what sexual attraction is. It’s not okay if all one ever does is objectify the object(s) of their sexual desire. What is fine is the objectification that occurs when your head turns because you see some exposed flesh across the room, a perky rear in tight jeans, a wicked pair of eyes; or when you hear a great laugh, or someone say something wickedly intelligent. That’s called desire.

I wouldn’t want to live in some utopia of lustless attraction, where everyone saw someone attractive and only ever thought “I wonder what they think about the bail-out,” rather than “I wonder what they’re like in the sack.” It’s silly to get angsty and act like we can’t have both thoughts about the same person, and therefore, not necessary to get angry if the latter thought comes first. It’s only a problem if the latter thought is the only one.

What does this have to do with Nadya? It’s simple—I wrote a list of things above that could cause sexual desire. To me, those are some things that are attractive. Other people are into MILFs, or pregnant women, and therefore Nadya’s about as hot as it gets. Other people are into wealth, or fame, and those things make someone sexy to them.

It might not make sense to you if that’s not what tweaks your nipples, but who are you or I to judge? I sat around in a bar last week with two gay friends, and we could all agree that graduate students and professors were frequently hot. The thing is, all three of us were saying the same thing about preceptors and professors, no matter their gender—the simple fact that they exuded intelligence and confidence made them sexually attractive. That’s probably objectification in a couple definitions of the word—after all, we were declaring someone delicious whether or not we were players on the right team—but it doesn’t seem to me a serious problem.

Objectification is a problem when it makes people feel diminished—either because they’re never valued as people, or when the objectification of others harms you (i.e., a deluge of skeletal models on television.) The objectification that occurs when sparks happen downstairs, isn’t just natural, but beneficial—you wouldn’t be here if your parents’ parents’ parents’ hadn’t felt like making the two-backed beast on the Oregon Trail.

Window on another world

by Thomas Dollar

I’m writing the first of what should be a biweekly (as in fortnightly) series of blog posts from Freetown, Sierra Leone. I’m halfway through a yearlong Princeton in Africa fellowship, and I want to share some of my thoughts and observations from West Africa.

“Equal Writes” does a great job discussing gender issues at Princeton, in the US media, and in contemporary American culture. I’m a big fan—that’s why I wanted to write for this blog. Still, I want to add a little global perspective. The community in which “Equal Writes” is produced (2009, Ivy League, East Coast America) is one in which feminism has already won the argument. We’re 160 years past the Seneca Falls Convention, and the basic tenet of feminism—that men and women are socially and politically equal—is undisputed in theory, if not always in practice. There are still going to be battles over how to implement gender-equality in society, but the basic battle of philosophies is over; we won. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in America today who would publicly state that men and women are not or should not be equal.

This is not true everywhere in the world. In Sierra Leone, like many developing countries, the basic premise of gender equality is an exotic one. Getting married and having children are the two all-important events in life—for men as well as women. These aren’t options; they’re givens. For a woman, this means being obedient and faithful to her husband, cooking his dinner and bearing his children. For a man, this means being liberal with the purse-strings for his wife. (Wives, if his purse is very heavy.)

I am something of a rare bird in Sierra Leonean society. I’m 22 years old, and because I’m white, I’m universally assumed to be rich. (This is a correct assumption, by Sierra Leonean standards.) Being rich, I’m able to provide for at least one wife—possibly two. Not only do I not have any wife, however, I don’t even have a girl to cook my food for me. I cook my own dinner, and have even been known to bring pots of soup across Freetown to potlucks—a sight that earns as much derision and incredulous laughter (from both sexes) as if I appeared in the street pregnant.

Levity aside, Sierra Leonean women face the wrong end of a slew of harrowing statistics. The maternal mortality rate is 1,800 deaths per 100,000 births. (The United States, which has the highest maternal mortality rate in the Developed World, has 13 maternal deaths per 100,000 births.) The dangers of childbirth in Sierra Leone—from hemorrhaging to fistula—are recounted in this Washington Post article. The fertility rate is 5.9 live births per woman of reproductive age, and the life expectancy is 44 years for women, 41 for men. Combined, these figures create an incredibly youth-heavy population: the median age is just over 17 years. To that end, 62% of women marry before age 18. Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C—what you call it is a heavily-charged matter) is widely practiced in Sierra Leone. Over 90% of women undergo this female-initiated rite, which I will discuss in greater depth in future postings.

In listing these nasty figures, I don’t want to fall into the “Oh, poor Africans; let’s pity them” trap. This is really not constructive. Nor do I want to make American feminists feel smug or self-congratulatory by drawing them into making comparisons that aren’t particularly apt. There are a whole lot of ways in which Princeton is not like Sierra Leone. I do, though, want to broaden the discussions here to include the deeper, existential issues that women around the world face. Crass advertising and size-negative dresses are important topics, but the fact that we’re discussing them at all shows how gender issues in the US and gender issues in Sierra Leone exist on two very different planes.

In the upcoming months, I’ll go into further detail on FGM/C, reproductive health and rights in Sierra Leone, and campaigns for gender equality. I always want to start a discussion, and I’m always happy to answer questions as best I can—either here or on my own blog, Freetown Calling.

Padi kusheh-o na from Salone!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Something more offensive from the NYT

by Molly Borowitz

We've all known for years now that women earn less than men holding the same jobs -- but now The New York Times is providing new data on how much less, in which fields, and why. Check out this snazzy interactive graphic to take a closer look at how the wage gaps break down within various professions in the United States. As a prospective editor (women make 17% less than men) and eventual professor (women make 22% less than men), this article isn't exactly providing me with welcome news. But what disturbs me even more than the fact that I'll be making 20% less money than my male colleagues is the explanation The New York Times has provided for the payscale inequity.

Apparently, some economists credit men's additional work experience and tendency to work more hours. Others turn to "personal choices," assuming that women opt for professions that have lighter workloads and more flexible hours -- so they can take care of the kids. And some economists say there's really no quantifiable explanation at all:

"There's no measurable way to explain the gaps within occupations," said Barry T. Hirsh, a labor economist at Georgia State University. "Other wage gaps, like racial gaps, can be almost fully explained by factoring in the differences in education, geography and age."

But the data on women's wage gaps covers all races, ethnicities, and locales -- and women line up one-to-one with men in terms of age and geographic dispersal (i.e., women aren't clustered or concentrated in specific regions of the country...unless there's some new feminist colony I haven't heard about, in which case, sign me up!) And with more women then men enrolling in college these days, shouldn't the education gap be closing? Perhaps -- but that doesn't erase the "personal choice" argument I mentioned above. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- the same people who provided the above data on college enrollment -- women are just more likely to choose fields in which lots of women already work:

The polarization of the labor market, where women choose careers that already have high percentages of women while men choose careers dominated by men, is thought to account for a large part of the overall gap. More women work in the service sector, where wages are low. Higher percentages of men are in management and business. Even within some of the most lucrative occupations, like medicine and law, women have migrated to specialties that earn less than others. A female doctor, for example, may choose family practice over surgery.

Here's my question to you, Bureau of Labor Statistics -- are yall sure we can call that a choice? I'm not so confident. How about: women are more likely to succeed in careers that already have high percentages of women? Or even, women are more likely to work until retirement age in fields that already have high percentages of women? Let's be completely honest: we all admire those brave, pioneering women who were the first in their fields (props to you, Elizabeth Blackwell!), but their experiences and the resistance they encountered don't necessarily make us eager to follow in their footsteps. Stephanie Boraas, another economist from the BLS, figures we probably shouldn't, anyway -- because most of us need enough time at home to take care of the kids:

"Desire for a certain flexibility or a certain lifestyle drives career choices," said Stephanie Boraas, an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Women often choose jobs that have more flexible hours, which can work well with child care."

I'm not going to lie, yall -- I want kids, too. And I want a job that allows me to see them for more than five minutes a day. But again, there's so much wrong with the way these decisions are portrayed. Of course some women want their families to come first -- and some men do, too. But the fact remains that at this point in time, men are at much greater liberty to make that decision, with fewer outside factors and pressures, than women are. I really think we ought to stop talking about the wage gap in terms of choices, and start talking about it in terms of options.

Why I love the NYT's multimedia department

The New York Times has a really interesting graphic about the wage gap. Take a's sobering, even in the wake of the passage of the Fair Pay Act.

Some disturbing statistics:
  • In the law, women make 22% less than men
  • Female retail sales workers make 34% less than their male counterparts
  • Female medical scientists make a whopping 37% less than their male colleagues
Only social workers seem to be safe - here, men only make 1% more than women. But let's remember that social work, and secretarial work, and elementary school education, which are all professions where the wage gap is smaller, are traditionally female-dominated fields, seen as part of the "female" sphere. And there are only a few places where woman actually make more than men (special education teachers and postal clerks).

Food for thought, eh?

Drinking until you can't say "no"

by Josh Franklin

In the Nassau Weekly's Princeton erotica entitled "Popping the Pink Bubble", we encounter a problematic female character, a freshman girl named Lizzie. We are told that "...Lizzie and some of the girlies were going to rip shots until they couldn't say 'no' in Lizzie's room." In light of the recent discussion about agency, alcohol, and the hookup culture, it's important to examine the paradoxical behavior of making a conscious choice to relinquish the ability to make decisions. How does consent operate in a culture where we seem to have a hard time distinguishing between predatory behavior and the empowered exercise of female sexuality?

I think that a fundamental aspect of a feminist analysis of sexuality is legitimizing the totality of sexual experiences rather than creating new images of normalcy; this is why I want to give the highest respect to the beliefs of any women who indeed spend their Saturday nights drinking alcohol to such excess that they lose the ability to make real decisions. What I want to question is whether this person is real: do people actually behave this way? The Nassau Weekly prefaced their story with the claim that, "This story is based completely on true events and on verbatims from the Princeton community at large." This seems plausible, since the image of a freshman girl drinking to the point where she cannot make legitimate decisions is certainly a legible one on campus.

But does that girl drink that much because she decided to, or because she has little experience with alcohol or is pressured to drink excessively by people around her? Does the practice of intentionally drinking to a point where consent disappears really exist, or is a myth that has been produced discursively in the Princeton community? The point has been made that our current discussions about sexual assault tend to paint all men who participate in the 'hookup culture' as sexual predators, and the majority of men are certainly not rapists. But there are predatory men in college. The idea that some women choose to participate in a high-risk drinking culture in which it is expected that men commit what is ostensibly sexual assault, whether or not there are women that actually behave that way, serves as an excuse for undeniably predatory activity.

I appreciate the need to assert female sexual agency; however, I think it's important that we make sure that that agency isn't deployed to reinforce a system of violence towards women. And even if we grant that there are women who make a deliberate choice to drink in this fashion, we have to realize that that expectation doesn't hold for everbody. How does one distinguish between someone who is extremely intoxicated and expects to have sex and someone who doesn't want that?

I don't mean this to read as an indictment of the 'hookup culture'. I wholeheartedly support the individual right to discover and define one's own sexuality. It's not acceptable for the existence of sexual assault to be deployed in a crudely political fashion to restrict women's freedom. On the other hand, it would be unfortunate if feminists quietly accepted the equation of women's sexual empowerment and sexual assault, and allowed their dedication to the former to lead them to give up on fighting against gender violence without reservation. If feminism is to transcend merely advocating for the right to be promiscuous and to achieve real empowerment, it has to represent the expression of possibility. That is, rather than using the reality of sexual violence as a supporting point for a particular political vision, we ought to realize that the confusion and difficulty surrounding certain forms of gender violence arise from the interactions of a multiplicity of sexual possibilities. The challenge is developing a culture that can accomodate this diversity, rather than merely excluding or repressing certain visions of sexual existence.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

How to have it all...NOT!

by Thúy-Lan Võ Lite

The hypocrisy is clear: as Jemima Lewis writes in this article, many of the most vocal supporters of the anti-feminist movement resemble the suit-wearing ball-busting women they claim to oppose. Take Megan Basham, for example, who wrote a book of "self-abnegating femininity" entitled Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide to Having It All yet who confusingly has the "immaculate blonde helmet, gym-hardened body and Diane von Furstenburg wardrobe most commonly seen on New York career women."

Lewis then asserts that for women to "feel successful professionally," they "need the approbation of people who do not already love [them]." Even Basham, who wrote about giving up her career to help her husband's, continued working as a journalist and putting together the aforementioned book that made her much more visible than her spouse.

But is it fair for Lewis to assume that all women need non-domestic jobs to feel successful? It seems that choice feminists like Basham have a point - doesn't it effectively restrict women's rights to push them into the commercial world?

Basham's idea, though, works best in a world in which all the women who don't want to be housewives, second to their bread-winning husbands, have equal opportunity in the workplace, and one in which men who want to stay at home can do so. Applying her logic to other issues reveals its instability; a supporter of "choice equality of college matriculation," for instance, would claim that it's okay that far fewer black and Hispanic students go to college. It's their choice not to earn higher degrees.

Basham's idea is unworkable in a society still plagued by discrimination against women. Her assertions are so unrealistic that it would appear that not even she lives by them.

The average American woman? What's that?

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

There was an interesting article in the LA Times today about the perpetual blindness of the fashion industry to any woman larger than a size 6...because, you know, they can't possibly want to dress well. The author, Emili Vesilind, points out that "When it comes to shopping, the average American man has it made. At 189.8 pounds and a size 44 regular jacket, he can wear Abercrombie & Fitch, American Apparel or Armani." But despite the fact that the average American woman is a size 14, the fashion industry continues to trot out rail-thin models who represent some absurdly small percentage of women. Fashionable stores tend not to stock sizes above a 10, and we all remember that scene in Mean Girls when Regina can't fit into her prom dress at One Three Five (not a real store, but it could be) - she asks for the next size up, and the saleslady says, "I'm sorry, we only carry sizes 1, 3 and 5. You can try Sears."

This isn't a joke. Visilind points out that "It often seems that it's easier to find and buy stylish clothes for Chihuahuas than for roughly half the country's female population." This is particularly mind-blowing because it means that the fashion industry is losing insane amounts of money. They could be selling to plus-size women, who spend about 20% of what "regular"-sized women spend on clothing every year. This makes no sense, and it's simple prejudice. "At the crux of the inequity," Visilind writes, "according to some plus-size designers, models and retailers, is prejudice toward women the industry doesn't find particularly glamorous or sexy. Like fifth-grade girls who secretly live in fear of being ostracized from the cool clique, they don't want to be caught talking to the fat girl."

This is really ridiculous and petty. Leaving the absurdity of our standards of beauty aside, the fashion industry is turning down large sums of money in order to maintain an image which isn't helping them at all. I'm assuming that, by the prices of their shoes, Prada likes money as much as the next designer - so it makes very little sense that Miuccia Prada has publicly stated that she won't sell clothes above a size 10.