Saturday, October 24, 2009

Brobama: Is Our President a Frat Boy?

An article in today's NYT discusses the possibility that President Obama is running a "man's world" in the White House, citing a high-profile pickup basketball game to which he invited no female players, lower visibility of his female colleagues, and the general climate of "a White House rife with fist-bumping young men who call each other 'dude.'"

It's true; Obama has exhibited certain "bro" behaviors:
"Since being elected, he has demonstrated an encyclopedic knowledge of college hoops on ESPN, indulged a craving for weekend golf, expressed a preference for adopting a “big rambunctious dog” over a “girlie dog” and hoisted beer in a peacemaking effort."
And it's a little suspicious that less attention (or power?) is given to female colleagues like Hillary Clinton:
"While the senior adviser Valerie Jarrett is undeniably one of the president’s closest White House confidantes, some women inside or close to the administration complain that Mr. Obama’s female advisers are not as visible as their male colleagues or, they suspect, as influential."
But Obama has emphasized the presence and importance of the powerful women at home and in the White House. Jarrett also rejected "boys' club" accusations by noting the vast inclusion of women in high-octane positions:
"She cites the prominent women Mr. Obama has appointed to top positions, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and six other cabinet-level officials; Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor; the health care czar, Nancy-Ann DeParle; and the domestic policy adviser, Melody Barnes. According to figures provided by the administration, there is a 50-50 gender split among White House employees."
But I'm not convinced that Obama's all-male golfing trips make him a bro, and it's so exciting to see intelligent women gaining influence at the national level. As White House communications director Anita Dunn remarked, the "Obama administration [is] 'refreshingly un-self-conscious' about matters of equality, maybe to a point where they neglected the 'optics' of the all-male basketball game."

Image from clared23's flickr.

Being a woman is not a pre-existing condition

by Kelsey Zimmerman

The news has been dominated by the health care debate for the last few months. I can’t count the number of times I’ve turned on the TV or read a newspaper and seen the various parts of the bill- the public option, abortion funding, etc.- been featured again. However, I was surprised to learn that there is a major issue in health care that many people are unaware of. Gender rating, the practice of charging women more for healthcare, has largely flown under the public’s radar. This sexist system is a serious problem, as this is costing large numbers of women their health insurance coverage.

The National Women’s Law Center recently published a report that found widespread variety in pricing for health insurance based on gender. Women were charged inconsistently high rates, depending on their age and location. For example, a twenty five year old woman could be charged 6 to 45% more than a man of the same age. The reports also found out that in some states not only were women being charged more for their insurance, they were being denied coverage for having preexisting conditions like “pregnancy” or having a c-section in the past. In the states, it is even legal for an insurance company to reject a woman’s claim for coverage if she has been a victim (note: victim) of domestic violence or rape.

Insurance companies claim they only use gender rating as factor in figuring out the cost of insurance because it has been proven that women go to the doctor more than men. Apparently, this justifies charging women absurd amounts of money for coverage or denying them coverage altogether for “womanly” preexisting conditions. Sadly, only twelve states have barred or limited this practice, although many states are now considering legislation of the same effect. However, with the emphasis on the health care reform in Washington right now, there is no better time to have a nationwide law put in effect to end this sexist system. When Montana banned gender rating in 1993, it demonstrated how ending gender rating would have no serious economic effect on the health care industry. There is no reason why this practice should continue.

For gender rating to end, the government needs to hear how unacceptable we find it. Go to this site to learn more about gender rating and how to get involved in the campaign against it.

Kuwaiti Women May Obtain Passports without Husbands' Consent

by Malavika Balachandran

This Wednesday, Kuwaiti women finally gained the right to obtain their own passports without the consent of their husbands, according to AP. Prior to this ruling by the Kuwaiti constitutional court, a woman could not get a passport unless her husband signed the application.

After receiving complaints that many women could not leave the country because their husbands would not permit it, the court reviewed the passport policy. It decided just this week that the policy violated women's right to gender equality in the Kuwaiti constitution.

This is one of many signs of progress in the Middle East. More Middle Eastern women are becoming politically active; just this May, several women became members of Parliament in Kuwait. As more women are becoming literate, the pressure for gender equality grows. Through education and political involvement, the Middle East will continue to move towards civil equality.

Photo of Kuwait City from Ikarus Kuwait's flickr.

A center for sex, God and good feeling

by Christopher Moses

The right wing screeches with insecurity. The Republican establishment worries that fringe movements undercut the party’s future. The Onion satirizes a ‘Moron’s March on Washington State.’ So it’s no surprise that a little group like the Princeton Anscombe Society would, in this big bad world of Democratic ascendancy, find itself with a bit of an image problem.

Last week Anscombe’s proposed Chastity Center got something of a well-deserved smack-down from Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman. Though rather than pushing them aside, I want to take some of Anscombe’s propositions seriously—in order to dismiss them that much more fully. And in turn, to offer a counter-point to their lunacy with a little bit of lightheartedness that, in all seriousness, I hope can lead to more sex, and better sex at that.

Sex first:

I’m forever amazed with the scientific and analytical tone pushed by Anscombe (and certain strands of right-to-lifers, creationists and so forth). They borrow from ‘sociology, psychology, medicine, philosophy, theology, and human experience’ to prove their argument. This is for the good of people and society—big stuff like that.

Yet by succumbing to this scientific and analytical-philosophy-sounding speech, Anscombe makes a deal with the devil. It’s an attempt to appropriate the terms and forms of argument made powerful by secular, rational and often explicitly anti-religious movements.

Anscombe tries to hedge religion, but theology slips through (even if it’s only fifth). Indeed, these folks are far more faith-driven than anything else. Just look at the idea of being ‘called’ to chastity, especially as to ‘true’ feminism and the supposed life situation of gays. This is lock-and-load Protestantism of a perversely post-modern sort.

Now on to God:

The denial of sex, or promotion of chastity before marriage—however you want to spin it—sounds strange as a positive mission statement for such an empirically minded group. How do they know so much about sex? And is sex really that good, unequivocally so, during marriage?

I know some splendidly, happily married folks. I bet even they sometimes have bad sex. What, then, is the shamanistic power of vows, or a legal license, to stand between a couple who, after years of chaste commitment, then promise to stay together and indulge in unifying sex? Or does it not work absent Godly sacrament?

Some mighty good, fulfilling, whole and loving sex happens beyond marriage. Either that, or tribal savages the world over forever live in a state of perpetual misery awaiting Anscombe’s ritualized, legalized monogamous bliss. Happily we have missionaries!

More seriously: Anscombe’s fear of sex is the same as an atheist’s fear of God. Why so much energy to deny something you know nothing about, or can’t prove one way or the other? It’s part of a sickly, dishonest attempt to hide the religious thrust of such positions.

I don’t really have faith in a God as given by mainstream Christianity. Still I believe in a lot of things I can’t prove, quite a bit of it irrational. For the most part, I think this is just about being human. Some of my beliefs blur into faith of a humanistic sort, but that’s another story. The point is, let’s be ok with belief, and explore its how’s and why’s, rather than trying to make opinions and perspectives into exclusionary, uncompromising proofs. Hurray for pragmatism!

Yet in a more analytical strain, I’m reminded of words I heard spoken by the late, great philosopher Donald Davidson: ‘you believe more than you know.’ Which is to say, in quantitative terms, we know very little and believe quite a bit; and also, we engage in believing far more often than we think; and yet more, belief encompasses a bigger space itself than knowing.

Davidson’s clever comment put forever to rest that fifteen minutes of atheist anxiety I once had in tenth grade. But enough pretending to do philosophy—I can’t—and anyhow, Anscombe does more than enough of that on its own.

Finally, good feeling:

Anscombe might be better off telling us what we should be doing, rather than staying so belted to chastity. Where will we’ll find all this sex-free fulfillment?

Honestly, I agree that much insecurity, aggression, and other less-loving emotions often mar good, healthy sex. Though I also think that love is complicated, and that even the best sex, in marriage or not, will be implicated by questions of power and less-than-blissful emotions. But at least give us some sense of what we’re winning, other than a life tensely and repressively anticipating permanent coupling (as an aside, Anscombers should really reckon with Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach).

So here’s my proposal (with a much better ring to it than anything of Anscombe’s): the Center for Sex, God and Good Feeling. Talk about it; have if you wish, or wait; believe all you want; and whatever your choice, feel good about it.

As the Beatles put it, ‘I’ve got a feeling, a feeling deep inside… a feeling I can’t hide… Oh no! Oh no. Yeah! Yeah!’ To the Center! Come one, come all.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Food is for fat people: the saga of the size zero model continues

by Beth Zak-Cohen

Last week New York Magazine published an article questioning the firing of one of Ralph Lauren’s models. She says it was because she gained too much weight. She was 5’8” and 120 pounds! He says it was because of her “inability to meet the obligations under her contract”. Lack of denial much?

The model in question was in these crazily proportioned and obviously Photoshopped ads making her intensely and strangely skinny, adding to the debate.

Robin Givhan, Washington Post fashion editor, has an interesting take. She says fashion represents an ideal, its what everyone wants to be. Fashion models, she says, won’t get smaller until we do. She says our nation has never embraced being fat; we congratulate people for losing weight, even if that weight loss is unhealthy.

I read the article with an expectation that I would disagree empathetically. I do disagree (to the extreme) with some related statements like the one by Robert Verdi who said, in response to the controversy. He says: “I think food is for fat people and poor people.” Excuse me?

However, Givhan has a point. Our nation has a huge problem with obesity and consistently celebrates weight loss and thinness. This makes the criticism of ultra-thin models somewhat hypocritical. Givhan gives the example of Oprah. When she loses a ton of weight, we don’t question her health. Unfortunately, we probably should. Society’s obsession with thinness has led to epidemics of anorexia and bulimia and people who seem of totally normal weight, when they really have huge health problems surrounding self-image. Not all thin models are unhealthy, and models shouldn’t be criticized just for being thin. To fire a model for being too thin would be just as bad as firing one for being too fat. Theoretically. When thin is 85 pounds and fat is 120, it adds a slightly different dimension. Because most of these models are unhealthily thin and those considered fat are nowhere near unhealthily overweight, let alone obese.

So what’s the solution? The cliché is that we need to celebrate girls of all sizes but obesity and extreme thinness can have major consequences health wise. However, there’s no reason we have to make weight the center of the debate. Why don’t we make the debate a health-centered one? Whether a girl, or woman, is fat, thin, or in-between, she can be living a healthy lifestyle or an unhealthy one. Our society needs to glorify a healthy lifestyle and living up to one’s goals and potential. That is really the main thing, once you do that, size comes naturally. If it’s bigger or smaller who cares, if you’re healthy and happy that’s what’s important. It’s still kind of a cliché, but when society is giving us such conflicting messages, what’s a girl to do?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Quick hit: Midwife Cara Muhlhahn sued for negligence

I've blogged about celebrity midwife Cara Muhlhahn on Equal Writes before, but she bears revisiting today because she is being sued for "gross negligence" by a Manhattan couple who are claiming that she was responsible for the stillbirth of their son. Catherine and Ricardo McKenzie, who turned to "outlaw" midwife Muhlhahn after seeing Ricki Lake's documentary The Business of Being Born, are contending that Muhlhahn broke state law by failing to refer Catherine McKenzie to a hospital during her three-day labor. Their lawyer, Richard Reich, said, "This is a woman who identified herself as 'the guardian of safety.' Her practice was anything but safe."

If you read Andrew Goldman's NY Mag profile of Muhlhahn last March, or my post about it here, you know that Muhlhahn has a somewhat checkered and controversial past. She has popularized, and normalized, the idea of home birth significantly. But this particular case has also hurt midwives - inspiring, among other media coverage, a Today Show segment last month titled "The Perils of Midwifery" that sparked much outcry among the home birth community.

I wrote a longer and more extensive post on the Muhlhahn controversy at - take a look if you're interested.

What do you think? Are Cara Muhlhahn's practices dangerous, or are they defensible?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Senators refuse to protect rape victims from corporations

by Jillian Hewitt

Senator Al Franken (D-Minn) proposed an amendment to the FY 2010 Defense Appropriations Bill—deemed the “anti-rape amendment”—that would allow employees of defense contractors to sue their employers should they be raped or sexually assaulted in some other way. What’s that? Surely employees of American corporations should be allow to sue in the event that they’re like, gang-raped? Think again. I’ve done a fair amount of research into the things that our government has either allowed or refused to punish during the “war on terror,” but this is by far the most outrageous thing I’ve heard about to date. Sadly, there are so many outrageous things that the public will never hear about. With that, I should start at the beginning…

As a 19-year-old employee for KBR (a then-subsidiary of Haliburton,) Jamie Leigh Jones was stationed at Camp Hope, in Baghdad. On July 28th, 2005 a group of KBR employees put date rape drugs into a drink and gave it to her; she passed out; they raped her repeatedly. She woke up naked, bruised, and bleeding. She tried to get help from an Army physician, Jodi Schultz, who gave her a rape kit. It was given to KBR security forces, and then it disappeared for 2 years only to be found without vital information. Under orders of KBR, Jones was kept in a shipping container for several days after the rape so that she wouldn’t be able to report it. She was finally rescued by dispatchers from the US Embassy in Baghdad and brought back to the United States.

Then, Jamie tried to sue KBR and its employees—she never found out exactly who raped her, because she was unconscious, but one man admitted that he had been part of the group. KBR responded that Jones had no right to sue, and that the matter would have to be resolved in private arbitration because of the terms of her employment contract. Now this seems ridiculous, but hey, never underestimate a private defense contractor’s desire for complete freedom from the law. So someone in the Senate, Al Franken, decides something needs to be done about this and writes up an amendment. The amendment requires that defense contractors allow their employees access to U.S. courts—not just private arbitrators—in the event that they are raped or sexually assaulted. Sounds pretty straightforward right? The amendment passed 68-30. Not 98-0, but 68-30. This is how far 30 (male, white) Republican senators were willing to go to ensure that government doesn’t “get involved in private contracts.” To be sure, there were Republicans who voted for this amendment; in fact, Ted Poe (R-TX) was the Representative responsible for rescuing Jones from KBR in the first place.

I guess it shouldn’t shock me, but it really does: how do you justify putting your allegiance to a private defense contractor (Haliburton/KBR) over your obligation to protect women who are raped and sexually assaulted? I don’t have to try to answer this question myself, thank God, because a few of the senators who voted against the amendment have already done it for me. For instance, John Thune (R-S.D.) said in a filmed hallway interview that “he might have supported the amendment if it had been narrowed to cover rape rather than extended to cover other sexual-related abuses.” So you would have given women who are raped the right to sue their employees, if only the amendment hadn’t given power to those pesky souls who were only sexually abused? Wow, Senator Thune, that is so compassionate of you! In his explanation for voting against the amendment, Jeff Sessions (R-AL) explained that “congress should not be involved in writing or rewriting private contracts; that’s just not how we should handle matters in the United States Senate.”

As Jon Stewart was smart to point out, that is, in fact, how the Senate is supposed to work: the government hires private contractors, and in turn they get a say in how the contractor handles its business. And wait a minute, did he seriously defend himself with the “get government out of businesses!” argument? Again, Stewart’s response is better than anything I could come up with on my own, so I’ll just quote him: “If, to protect Haliburton, you have to side against rape victims, you might want to rethink your allegiances.”

Every one of these senators had the choice to either protect defense contractors from public litigation, or give power to those who have been sexually abused. Please speak out by calling, emailing, or sending letters to the following senators who chose the former:

Alexander (R-TN), Barrasso (R-WY), Bond (R-MO), Brownback (R-KS), Bunning (R-KY), Burr (R-NC), Chambliss (R-GA), Coburn (R-OK), Cochran (R-MS), Corker (R-TN), Cornyn (R-TX), Crapo (R-ID), DeMint (R-SC), Ensign (R-NV), Enzi (R-WY), Graham (R-SC), Gregg (R-NH), Inhofe (R-OK), Isakson (R-GA), Johanns (R-NE), Kyl (R-AZ), McCain (R-AZ), McConnell (R-KY), Risch (R-ID), Roberts (R-KS), Sessions (R-AL), Shelby (R-AL), Thune (R-SD), Vitter (R-LA), Wicker (R-MS)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Careers, children, choices: why the usual feminist argument against “career vs. family” is actually hurting us

by Molly Borowitz

Last night I posted a comment in response to Amelia’s link to a recent survey on maternity leave, which revealed that about 75% of British moms believe that women who don’t have children should also be entitled to some kind of leave equivalent:

“While I have the greatest of respect for working moms, I do have to point out that perhaps some kind of not-motivated-by-a-change-in-your-parental-status leave isn't actually as ridiculous as it first sounds. After all, there are quite a few people in the world who choose not to (or, for whatever reason, are unable to) have children. We talk a lot on this blog about empowerment, and yet women still face the implicit belief that we are intended to have children, and that our lives cannot be complete, significant, or meaningful without them. Obviously maternity leave is a medical and mental-health necessity, but it does represent a right that comes with a specific lifestyle choice—one that we usually celebrate with parties and gifts. Our culture dictates that we support and reward our friends who choose marriage and/or children (and often quite lavishly), but no such system of encouragement and congratulation exists for the men and women who choose to be single and/or childless. Why? Because we don't regard it as a CHOICE; spinsters, bachelors, and childless people are more often construed as social, emotional, or biological unfortunates who missed the marriage-and-babies boat. The government is absolutely obligated to respect and honor a pregnant woman's choice to have a child—but wouldn't it be pretty cool if it was also obligated to respect and honor a woman's choice NOT to?”

Like Amelia, I can’t immediately think of many ways to resolve this issue, and I absolutely agree with her that the introduction of non-maternity maternity leave might diminish our appreciation for the physical and mental significance of childbirth and a new mom’s need to recuperate and adjust. However, I think it might be productive to meditate further about the ramifications of treating childlessness as a choice; if we abstract away from the specificity of the maternity-leave issue, it’s possible to contemplate the complicated relationship between women, employment, and motherhood in a new way.

Several months ago I wrote a piece about the cultural stigma that working moms face, wherein I said that “we seem to be stuck in a catch-22 where stay-at-home moms aren't ambitious enough, working moms neglect their children, and super-ambitious women are selfish for choosing not to have any children.” At the risk of a reductio ad incommodum, I think the underlying cultural assumptions that motivated this point and my earlier question about choosing childlessness are as follows:

1) Unmarried and childless people rarely choose to be so.

2) Working women have to choose between fulfilling their career potential and having a family.

Assumedly both these statements have some elements of truth, since they carry so much popular currency. Frequent EW readers (and Sarah Haskins watchers) will be familiar with the pressure that popular media exerts upon women to find mates—everything from milk ads and chocolate commercials to romantic comedies and Disney films —and with the feminist complaint that ambitious women are forced to choose between a family and a career, while it’s rarely necessary for men to make such decisions. However, constructing the choice in this way actually does more to reinforce these stereotypes than to combat them. If we describe the working woman’s difficult position as a societally-coerced choice between being a good employee (or boss) and a good wife and mother, we make several gendered assumptions.

Firstly, we assume that all working women should have mates, and therefore martial responsibilities that their jobs might make difficult to fulfill—and by making this assumption, we reinforce the implicit (or, as in the case of popular media, rather explicit) cultural beliefs that all women should be married, and that few single women remain so by choice. Secondly, the constructed opposition between “career” and “family” assumes that all married couples should want to have children—which again upholds the notion that childless people rarely choose to be so (not least because, as I mentioned earlier, parenthood is often construed as a woman’s true fulfillment). But perhaps most importantly, by constructing the problem in this way, we advance a woman’s career as her only excuse to be childless—the only reason she should ever decide not to have children. By placing her career immediately at odds with her family, we automatically presume that all women (whether employed outside the home or not) should want to have children, and that the pursuit of professional success is the only legitimate and fulfilling alternative to motherhood.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find this construction empowering. I think what we really need is to find a way of describing these difficulties that doesn’t presuppose marriage and children as the necessary and appropriate outcomes for all women, with a high-powered career being the only possible alternative. In my opinion, learning to conceptualize a woman’s single or childless status as an active choice rather than a social misfortune is a way of empowering her, giving her greater agency in negotiating the relationship between her identity as a woman, her profession, and her lifestyle choices. Obviously a simple discursive change isn’t going to overthrow the complex system of pressures and restrictions that working women face, but I do think that if we afford women this greater agency—wherein we respect and acknowledge the active choices of women who are single and/or childless just as much as we do those who are married and/or mothers—eventually the term “choice” won’t just be a discursive label, but an empirical fact.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A thought about the abstinence and chastity center

by Josh Franklin

Over this past week, there has been a lot of discussion about a center for abstinence and chastity on campus. Although I have already written about this, after following the discussion on campus, attending one of the week's events, and talking about the idea with many other Princeton students, I thought it would be good to re-articulate my position on this issue.

I think that a center for abstinence and chastity is inappropriate on this campus. While I agree with some of the principles that lead its supporters to the conclusion that it is needed, I think that in the end, establishing this center would be harmful to the campus community. Students come to Princeton with a variety of different beliefs surrounding sex and sexuality. Moreover, everybody is in the process of understanding their own developing sexualities. I think that the vast majority of students believe that sex is something that is deeply meaningful; however, I think that that belief takes many different forms.

Something that I've read and heard many times during discussions about the proposed chastity center is the idea of sex as a mindless rubbing of body parts, done simply for pleasure. I believe that this idea of 'meaningless' sex, which would be a fair way to describe the hookup culture, is an illusion. Put in another way, while relatively few people understand sex to be such a casual activity, or behave as if they do, it certainly seems as if a great number of students feel that way. Establishing a chastity center has the unintended, negative effect of institutionalizing this myth of the hookup culture. Instead of establishing the opportunity for choice, a chastity center represents a false dichotomy between ultimate promiscuity and total abstinence, leaving the vast majority of students who grapple with the choices in between without support.

I want to make it clear that I respect and admire abstinence, and more than that, I appreciate that today's campus culture of sexuality is full of negative pressures and can be stressful and difficult. What I'm trying to say is that a center for abstinence and chastity plays into and reinforces this culture of sexual pressure. While I admit that such a center might be experienced as positive for a small group of students, it would affect all students (as much as a University center could affect anybody, which in my opinion has been exaggerated throughout this discussion). Thus the goal should be to think about how as a community we can change our culture of sexuality on campus so that it fundamentally doesn't create these pressures. Like most other instances, I don't think it is productive to create more spaces where difference and opposition can be articulated, but to think as a community about the ways in which a plurality of perspectives can be accommodated.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

A patronizing attitude: abolish lower standards for women in chess

by Kelsey Zimmerman

There was a great op-ed in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week about a game that seems to be an unlikely candidate for gender discrimination: chess. Unlike other competitive activities, chess is one where very few people could argue that sex matters. It is not an issue of physical prowess, where males are generally stronger and faster than females and standards are adjusted accordingly for women. Chess is a wholly intellectual activity; its main requirements are excellent strategy and timing skills. So it would be logical for there to be no disparity in how men and women are judged in the realm of chess.

Sadly, this is not the case. The World Chess Federation persists in having anachronistic rankings that insult women by having lower point standards for attaining the ranks of grandmaster and international master. Instead of giving the all-encompassing titles of grandmaster or international master, they receive the titles of “woman” grandmaster and “woman” international master despite the fact the “male” titles have no preface of “man”. Ultimately, it is significantly easier to attain these “female rankings”. This is not only unfair; it is downright demeaning to suggest that women should aspire to a lower standard than male chess player. The bottom line: the WCF seems to think that women are less intelligent than men.

The woman’s international master and women’s grandmaster titles were originally instituted in 1950 and 1976, respectively. The idea that women were intellectually inferior to men was more acceptable in the 1950’s, and it’s understandable, if not particularly palatable, that this “woman’s” title was instituted, as least in 1950. But by 1976 the perception of women had changed radically enough that we can reasonably ask why the second sexist standard was instituted. Either way, it’s unacceptable, in 2009, to allow the same sexist and degrading standards to continue in this modern age of equality and women’s rights. Chess rankings should be decided on the basis of ability; gender should not factor into the equation at all.

A separate but no less crucial issue is the dearth of women in the chess world in general. It wasn’t until 1991 that a Hungarian chess player named Susan Polger finally became the first woman to attain the lauded title of grandmaster by meeting the performance standards for women. Strangely, the proliferation of Internet chess, where gender is more invisible, has allowed many women to have the access to expert training and practice. This was more challenging before the advent of online chess because of hostile attitudes within male-dominated chess clubs. Still, women only make up 10% of the WFC and only 2% of its top 1000 players. High-ranked women cite several reasons for this, from lack of funding for female chess players from sponsors, to the uncompetitive nature of women, and to the solitary nature of chess, which is apparently undesirable for women. But whatever the reason, it’s clear that competitive chess is one area in which women still have far to go.

Bike for equality

by Emily Sullivan

A few weekends ago I packed into a 7-passenger van with six guys. No, we weren’t headed to a prostate cancer survivor’s conference, but rather the Trexlertown bike swap. T-town is one of the biggest bike swaps events in the country, and only happens twice a year. Women were about as scarce as the Campagnolo 8-speed components I needed at the swap. My rough estimate is that maybe 5% of the crowd had two X chromosomes.

It was an awesome event and overall a great day, but one particular occurrence left a bad taste in my mouth. I walked over to a seller’s table and picked up a pair of brake levers—a pretty basic bike component. As I lifted them off the table, the older man behind it looked at me and said, “Come on. You don’t even know what those are!”

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the presence of mind to beat him over the head with them…

For a variety of reasons—which I will likely write about in future posts--bike riding and maintenance are arenas dominated by men. Many people don’t know that women and bicycles have a fascinating history together. Susan B. Anthony once suggested that bicycles have "done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” Women began riding bicycles at the close of the 19th century. This had two dramatic effects on society: it made women exponentially more mobile, and it changed fashion. Mobility at large means independence—women did not have to rely on men to get around, and were able to set their own agendas independent of their husbands’ and fathers’. In the fashion world, cycling forced the invention of bloomers and a departure from the corset.

Of course, this terrified men. What is disturbing is that it evidently still does!

Link round-up: feminist weddings, maternity leave, and Barbara Ehrenreich

I haven't done a link round-up in a while, so just to give you a brief overview of what's been new, noteworthy and commented upon in the feminist world over the past week or so:

Feministing editor and all-around feminist rock star Jessica Valenti got married on October 3 to Talking Points Memo blogger Andrew Golis, and her wedding announcement was in the NYT's Style section yesterday. I was mildly horrified by the NYT's coverage, and it turns out, so was Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell (who is something of a rock star herself), who wrote a piece about it for the Nation's blog last night. I wrote about this for Care2 today, but really, Harris-Lacewell's piece speaks for itself.

File this under ridiculous: a survey conducted in Britain revealed that 74% of women think that maternity leave, or its equivalent, should be available to people who don't have children. Because we all know that maternity leave is just a fun vacation.

Barbara Ehrenreich debunks the new research that people use to blame feminism for society's ills. Are women really unhappier now than they were in the 1970's? Ehrenreich says that the research "doesn't pass the giggle test."

This is just horrible: an interracial couple in Louisiana were denied a marriage license because the judge felt that their children might face "difficulties" in later life due to their parents' ethnicities. Right, I'm sure they'll encounter difficulties - like racist judges!

What have you been reading and writing over the past week? We always love to hear from you in our comments section.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Calvin Klein "enhances" men's jeans

by Jordan Kisner

Calvin Klein's newest pair of jeans
for men comes with a little *ahem* enhancement built in. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, we're talking about a pair of jeans with padding to boost the bulge.

My first reaction? Laughter. And then I remembered the Wonder Bra. And Spanx. And LashBlast mascara and high heels and collagen and any number of ridiculous products designed to help women appear bustier, slimmer, fuller, taller, plumper, tanner, and tighter. Body by Calvin Klein Jeans are being marketed to men in the same way that the Wonder Bra is marketed to women: as a boost (good grief the puns) of confidence.

"They were a breakthrough! Such comfort, such support! And yes, my confidence was bigger! It looked bigger, at least."

There is a sociology thesis waiting to be written about the way this man's penis and his sense of confidence suddenly seem equivalent because of a pair of jeans, but I'd rather focus for the moment on the inauguration of modern men into the world of "enhancing apparel" that women have occupied (been victimized by?) for centuries. I can't say I'm all that happy they've arrived. While some people will make the claim that this is a positive development for gender equality, it seems more of a defeat than a victory to have men participating in a mentality that has done immeasurable harm to women. I wonder if feminists aren't now faced with double duty-- already absorbed with the effort to get American culture to value women's bodies unenhanced, has the time come to focus on men's bodies, too?