Saturday, January 03, 2004

Money for Your Lingerie? (Or Retirement)

It is ever so Out these days to raise a peep about discrimination against women. If you are so unfashionable as to complain, you are promptly labeled a whiner. Hip young post-feminists will advise you to get over your "victim psychology," Dr. Laura will tell you to pull up your socks, and the women's magazines will advise you to try sexy lingerie for your problems.

This is how Molly Ivins begins her column on the gender wage gap, and she's got a point. It IS unfashionable to complain, and it IS fashionable to ignore the wage gap. That women make, on average, only 76 cents to every dollar men make, well, who cares? It's much more fun to learn pole-dancing and to discuss what is sexxee. Besides, lots of people will start screaming at you with red faces if you as much as peep about it.

On top of that, understanding the reasons for the gender wage gap is really hard. It's something economists spend years learning to do, so thinking about the wage gap can be daunting to even the most intellectually alert individual. (If you wish to have a very good introduction to the wage gap, read Ampersand's series at the Alas, A Blog. You won't get anything of same calibre here.)

Maybe that's the reason for the current meme that it's ok to treat the wage gap as something completely debatable, from whether it even exists to what causes its current size. I don't buy that personally, but I'll be glad to show you how it's done here.

Sadly, a little bit of economics is needed before the fun can begin: Basically, there are three possible reasons for the gender wage gap (and yes, all economists out there, I know that I am oversimplifying here):

1. Women can't / Men can (performance differences)

2. Women don't want to /Men want to (preference differences, or as some prefer, choice)

3. Women are not allowed to /Men are allowed to (discrimination)

In reality, the question how much each of these contributes to the wage gap is an empirical one: it should be answered by using proper data and careful methods. But in the medialand the game is played differently: simply pick one or two of the three based on which you like the best. Then write up something emotional to support your choice.

Even Molly Ivins falls for this. Her choice is number 3: discrimination:

Of course, more women could afford sexy lingerie if we weren't still the victims of wage discrimination. Equal Pay for Equal Work is the oldest demand in the feminist repertoire, and everyone gives it lip service; even the anti-feminists assure us that they certainly believe in equal pay for equal work.

Molly, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 applies only to men and women doing exactly the same job. Unfortunately, the vast majority of men and women don't work in the same jobs. Even if every single firm obeyed the Equal Pay Act (which not every single firm does), women would still earn less, because so many work in female-dominated low-pay occupations. If discrimination is to be the culprit, you need to look much deeper into the structures of labor markets.

The spunky ladies of the right-wing Independent Women's Forum choose number 2., choice, combined with the auxiliary argument that all nondiscriminatory factors should be taken into account before examining any residual discrimination:

According to the "wage gap" claim, women earn only 76 cents on the male dollar. But, this is a deliberately misleading claim that fails to account for a number of commonsense facts about women's workplace experiences. Women actually earn 98 cents on the dollar when factors such as age, education, and experience are taken into account. It is critical to compare apples to apples. For example, women often leave the work force to raise children and later return.

The claim about women earning 76 cents on the male dollar is not deliberately misleading, ladies. It's pretty much correct, subtract or add a few cents, depending on the year. What you are trying to say is that not all of the 24 cent difference can be attributed to discrimination without first controlling for variables such as education and work experience. This is true. (But age shouldn't be one of these variables to control for. It's sometimes used as a measure for work experience when the latter is not available in the data, and if you insist to include it even with work experience you are assuming that ageism is an ok thing to affect wages.)

What isn't true is all that stuff about women earning 98 cents on the dollar. This was the result from one study which compared highly-educated single, childless men and women in their first jobs. Lo and behold, the study found that the entry-level wages were almost the same for both sexes. This is a) not proof of equal wages more generally, b) not proof of lack of discrimination and c) not even new.

Economists have known for a long time that all sorts of people earn about the same starting salaries for a given set of education. This would be the case even if they were all hired by the most rabid bigot you can imagine, simply because it is against the law to discriminate in hiring (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act) and because it is against the law to pay different wages for the same job (Equal Pay Act of 1963). The rabid bigot (in my discussion a woman-hater) would have to wait a little longer before she or he could start throwing obstacles in front of the female workers. This could happen through not promoting women, through not giving them opportunities for on-the-job training , or through various forms of sexual harassment. (Though all of these are illegal, too, they are much more difficult to prove than obvious wage differences at entry level.)

I'm not saying that any of these alternatives would necessarily happen. Many women might simply opt out of promotions because of their childcare duties, as the IWF argues. But we don't actually know how much choice and discrimination affect women's earnings development over time. To imply that it's all choice ("For example, women often leave the work force to raise children and later return.") is part of the opinion-game.

My final example of the game is a real peach. It's from an article in the Mensnewsdaily:
The fact is, the "wage gap" disappears when you take into account such factors as training, years in the workforce, travel requirements, degree of physical labor, and risk to life and limb .
And truth be told, men essentially have no choice -- they are expected to be the primary breadwinner in order to support their wives and children . So they accept the high-paying, dangerous jobs that women are unwilling to accept.
In contrast, women have a broad range of options: Be a full-time mom, take on a part-time job, or do volunteer work.
So the so-called "wage gap" is really a "choices gap." And the feminist campaign to level wages really amounts to equal pay for unequal work.

Here the gentleman in question (one Carey Roberts) tells us that there is no discrimination, at least in his opinion. The wage gap totally disappears when proper attention is paid to the requirements of the job. Unfortunately, no evidence is provided for this opinion, probably because it doesn't exist. The gentleman appears to see the reasons in the wage gap mainly in number 2., choice, though including the degree of physical labor as one of the important explanations for higher wages and referring to equal pay for unequal work also smacks of an attempt to bring in number 1, performance differences.

The concept of choice is used in a very weird manner: women have all the choices but men have none. It seems more likely that if men feel constrained in their work choices, so do women. In particular, the society in the U.S. expects women to be responsible for child-care, and most economists agree that women's duties at home are one of the main determinants of the gender gap.

Some argue that these responsibilities make women 'choose' occupations which allow for flexibility in work hours and leave taking, even when this flexibility is at the cost of lost earnings and pensions. Many traditionally female occupations (the so-called pink collar jobs) do have these characteristics, though it should be noted that many high-paying jobs also have flexibility.

Do women make these sorts of choices? Many do, probably, but they are not free choices in the way a choice between chocolate and vanilla ice-cream might be. The work women do at home is valuable for the wider society; it produces the future tax-payers and soldiers and politicians, and the quality of these future citizens is of interest to everyone. At the same time, many observers would like the costs of these choices to fall totally on the women and their families. Also, even women who would not voluntarily choose to stay at home with their children may be pressured into this through societal disapproval of working mothers and life-long absorption of messages promoting a certain mothering style.

So it's not all that clear that the choices that women (or men) make are in some sense free and purely private. But it's also very difficult to prove to what extent women's earnings are affected by discrimination in the labor market.

Though discrimination clearly exists (as evidenced by court cases won by the plaintiffs and by audit studies in general), the current level of economic studies doesn't allow us to conclusively separate choice-based, performance-based and discriminatory reasons for earnings differences. What they can tell us is that once we have taken into account all the performance and choice-related aspects that we have data on, the remaining unexplained difference in men's and women's earnings could be due to discrimination. It could also be due to something else that we have inadvertently omitted.

Not a comfortable state of knowledge. But it's at least much more honest than the opinion games being played across the political spectrum. A recent, relatively well-done congressional study* shows that this unexplained difference amounts to roughly 20 cents on the dollar. (It's important to keep in mind that this study looks at men and women who work either full-time or part-time, while the gender gap in earnings as commonly discussed applies only to full-time workers. So the figures from this study are not directly comparable with the 76 cent figure in the preceding discussion.)

The raw data in this study show women earning, on average, only 44 cents for each dollar men earn, but factors such as working hours (especially in the form of women's part-time work), education, work experience and the number of small children the worker has at home explain a large portion of this difference. Still, these can only bring the women's adjusted earnings to 80 cents per each men's dollar. What causes the remaining difference is unclear. It could be caused by discrimination or possibly by women seeking jobs which allow greater flexibility. But note that some of the earlier factors could be discriminatory, too. For example, women might be working part-time due to pressures from societal gender roles rather than through free choice.

Why talk about something this boring? Well, it affects how much lingerie you can have. It also affects your old age, because retirement incomes go hand in hand with earnings. Women over 65 have an average annual income of $14,200 compared to men's $39,000.

It also affects families, as some observers have started noting. Whatever Mensnewsdaily might say, the fact is that many women and men live together in families, and the children and male partners of women also suffer when the women suffer.
*The link to this study gives you an Adobe pdf file. If you want to download it, go here, but ignore the title of the article: it's incorrect.

Postscript: The gender wage gap I discuss here is based on comparing men and women who work full-time, though the specific study I discuss also includes part-time workers. I wish to confess that I haven't bothered checking if this year's figure is exactly 76 cents or not. But it's in the ballpark!

Friday, January 02, 2004

Leave My Snakes Alone

The news is that the longest snake ever measured has been captured in Indonesia:
Officials at the zoo in Curugsewu, central Java, told the Republika newspaper that the reticulated python is 14.85m (49ft) long and has a maximum body circumference of 85cm (almost three feet). It weighs, they say, 447kg (70 stone, 3lbs).

It was impossible to verify the claim yesterday because the only photos available were of the black and brown reptile curled up, apparently asleep.

He isn't anywhere that long. He's fat, though. His name is A''bngd, and he was always a bit of an idiot. That's how they could catch him.

They feed the poor thing brown dogs. Poor dogs, poor snake. He refuses dogs of other colors. Of course he does, he's supposed to eat deer you thickheads.

Nothing good will come of this, mark my words. And it's started already: Man bitten by snake, firefighter attacked by snake.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Sharia Law in Canada

The Toronto Star:

An informal arbitration system that has been quietly settling marital or business disputes in Ontario using Islamic law, or sharia, for several years has now become a more formal structure known as the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice — and a national Muslim women's organization is "gravely concerned" that women's rights will not be protected.

Supporters of judicial tribunals say they reduce the need to go to court, are more private, speed up resolution and keep costs low in civil disputes.

These are some of the reservations of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women:

Sharia, or more accurately Muslim law, is not divine, as argued by some. It is based on divine text, the Quran, but it was interpreted a few centuries after the death of the Prophet Mohammad, by jurists in different countries, who themselves insisted that these were only interpretations. It is a vast, complex judicial system, with many schools of thought and with adaptations to local customs.

For example, some countries where Muslim law is applied, such as Tunisia, have interpreted the law as limiting marriage to monogamy, while others, like Pakistan, allow polygamy if the first wife consents.

Also, there are some interpretations and practices which adversely affect women. For example in some schools of jurisprudence, inheritance favours males; a husband can divorce his wife without legal recourse; financial support for wives can be for a limited period of time; alimony is questionable; division of property can be against the woman; and child custody can be given to fathers , according to the age of the child. How and who will ensure that these are not the interpretations which are used by the arbiters?

They also note that although the participants in the arbitration can choose either the Canadian law or the sharia law, many religious women would feel obligated to choose the sharia interpretation, even when it is not in their best interest.
Thanks to Mystic Bovine for the links.

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

And A Very Happy New Year To You!

May this coming year give you joy, peace and many wonderful memories!
May the snakes always protect you!
May you never grow tired of my blog!

Echidne of the snakes

The Glass Ceiling has Been Broken?

Or that's what the Washington Times would like us to believe. Quoting U.S. data from November 2003, the newspaper triumphantly (?) announced that women now constitute 50.6% of all workers in the occupational category that includes management, professional and related services.

What does this mean? According to the Washington Times:

"As a growing number [of women] move into upper management roles, those further down the ladder will reap the benefits by increasingly being targeted for advancement," said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

In other words, women have finally broken the glass ceiling! Yeah!

Really? Let's look at the raw data in more detail. The classification: Management, Professional and Related Services doesn't contain only managers. It also contains occupations such as librarians, educators and health care workers. I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations of women in various subcategories of this overall category, and here's what I found:

-women constitute 50.6% of the overall category
-but only roughly 37% of the subcategory management

The reason women are over half of the Management, Professional and Related Services is buried deep inside the Professional and Related Services subcategory:
-women constitute 60% of workers in community and social services
-and 74% of education, training and library services
-as well as roughly 72% of health care and associated technical services

So. Has the glass ceiling been broken? Are some conservatives who worry about this so-called development suffering from valid fears? Unfortunately, the answer is no.
Thanks for Pen-Elayne and AND THEN... for links.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Why White Men Prefer Bush

There are two good posts on this topic on the following blogs:AND THEN... and Alas, A Blog.

What's your take? And why do white women prefer Bush? (They also do, though by a much smaller margin.) I wonder. Could it be something to do with the culture of fear since 9/11? The Orange Alert? The suggestion that only the current Daddy Bush can keep us safe?

Rara Avis, Part II (Rush Limbaugh)

1. Introduction

Any human-watcher knows Rush Limbaugh: an extreme conservative talk-show host, and he's not especially rare as a type. Conservatives who dislike gays, feminists, ethnic minorities and the environment are a dime a dozen nowadays. But there was a time when Rush indeed cut an almost solitary figure against the political skies. He was a pathbreaker, a revolutionary, and his fans, the so-called dittoheads, are his revolutionary troops. This makes studying him still useful, even though he is currently flying in some turbulent winds.

I am going to pay special attention to his views on women and feminism, because this is a partly feminist blog, but also because many useful wider lessons can be concluded from such an endeavor. My main source material is roughly fifty pages of results from Google on the topics "Rush Limbaugh and women" and "Rush Limbaugh and feminists".

What I learned in general from wading through this material (other than the fact that thigh-high boots chafe and a snorkeling mask leaves a rash) is that
1. the majority (51%) of Americans dislike Rush Limbaugh (only 34% view him favorably),
and that
2. the way he has been criticized within the political left has been all wrong.

Organizations such as FAIR have taken Limbaugh to task for disseminating incorrect information on various topics. The underlying principle seems to have been that if Limbaugh can be shown to have lied his reputation would suffer. This is totally invalid. None of the dittoheads or other supporters of his shows are interested in some concept of objective truth. What they are interested in is exactly what Limbaugh's shows provide: validation of their own world view. That this validation is based on lies is beside the point.
In any case, criticizing the shows for inaccuracies is difficult when they are sold as humor. If something too outrageous is said, well, it can always be interpreted away as 'just a joke'.

2. Rush on Women

Limbaugh's views on women are crystallized in this 'Rushbite':

One of my fabulous routines concerns a San Francisco men's club which lost its battle to exclude women from membership. The courts ruled that they had to admit women on the basis that businesswomen were being unfairly denied opportunities to do business. This is specious. How much business did women think they were going to get as a result of forcing their way in?
Anyway, after one year, the female members demanded their own exercise room. They were probably tired of being ogled by a bunch of slobbering men while they pumped iron in leotards and spandex. The men offered to install the first three exercise machines in the women's new workout room. The ladies were thrilled. When they arrived on that first exciting day they found, to their stunned amazement, a washing machine, an ironing board, and a vacuum cleaner. Heh, heh, heh. (The Way Things Ought To Be, p.142-45 Jul 2, 1992)

He doesn't like women who 'force their way' into men's clubs, and he believes that women belong in the home, presumably cleaning it. He also doesn't want women in the military combat roles, partly because he believes that women are incapable of them, but also because:

I don't believe that women should be in combat roles even if they can do the job. Why? Simple. Women have a civilizing role in our society. They establish enduring values that are handed down from generation to generation. I just don't believe that we have to subject women to the horrors and rigors of war. (The Way Things Ought To Be, p.200-1 Jul 2, 1992)

Women are now put on a pedestal, but beware, the support is shaky. They are responsible for civilizing the society, while Rush does his utmost to uncivilize it. Besides, passing these female values on can also be translated as 'being responsible for child-rearing'.

In sum, Rush believes in strict, traditional gender roles. He also appears to find women less rational than men:
"Women should not be allowed on juries where the accused is a stud."

3. Rush on feminism and feminazis

I believe that Limbaugh doesn't like women very much, but that could be debated, if 'like' is used in the sense of "I like to eat cheese sandwiches." What is quite certain is that he detests and fears the feminist movement, just as I would detest and fear a liberation movement for cheese sandwiches. These two are conflated in the next famous 'Rushbite":

Let me leave you with a thought that honestly summarizes my sentiments: I love the women's movement. especially when I am walking behind it. ( The Way Things Ought To Be, p.142-45 Jul 2, 1992.)

An almost equally famous is the following one:

Feminism was established so that unattractive women could have easier access to the mainstream of society. Just look at the history of feminism if you doubt the truth.

Though trivializing the feminist movement by interpreting it as the reaction of women who have failed in their quest for a man is common, Limbaugh goes much further. In fact, he's responsible for the term 'feminazi', which has spread far beyond its original home of the dittoland:

"Femi-nazi," a word Rush Limbaugh used to equate the goals of feminism with societal devastation, has become a popular way for liberals to denote their levelheadedness (as in, "Well, I'm no femi-nazi, but"). Bill Maher, the cheeky host of TV's Politically Incorrect, has established himself as the vanguard of a sort of disaffected, Hugh Hefner liberal -- someone who doesn't care what anyone does, so long as it doesn't keep him from getting a good piece of ass.

But actually Limbaugh gets far too much credit for the coining of this term, or at least for its widespread use. This is what he actually said:

I prefer to call the most obnoxious feminists what they really are: feminazis. The term describes any female who is intolerant of any point of view that challenges militant feminism. I often use it to describe women who are obsessed with perpetuating a modern-day holocaust: abortion.
A feminazi is a woman to whom the most important thing in life is seeing to it that as many abortions as possible are performed.(The Way Things Ought To Be, p.192-93 Jul 2, 1992)

Given his definition, there are no feminazis. At least I have never met any or read about any. That the term has been so widely adopted tells us much more about the views of the people who use it than the views of those they apply it to.

4. Identification

What's behind Limbaugh's war against women or at least against feminism? I believe that it's his fear of losing his self-identity as a man. Though the following quote is a bit too extreme to may taste, it expresses the same basic idea:

The last few years of 20th-century popular culture have seen the culmination of a movement in the (supposedly) collective American male psyche. Men, it posits, are the browbeaten receptacles of a nation that refuses them any identity. Calls for justice and equality from women and gay men are now increasingly viewed as strident, misguided efforts to remove a man's ability to Be A Man. Wanton male lust, violence, and ignorance are not only healthy; they form a valid political viewpoint.
It's a mindset that originally fluttered from the chubby hands of crafty, discontented conservatives like Rush Limbaugh...

Consider also the following quotes (bolds mine):

A feminazi is a woman to whom the most important thing in life is seeing to it that as many abortions as possible are performed. Their unspoken reasoning is quite simple. Abortion is the single greatest avenue for militant women to exercise their quest for power and advance their belief that men aren't necessary. (The Way Things Ought To Be, p.192-93 Jul 2, 1992)

Ms. magazine has named its women of the year, and in doing so has illustrated : Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society. Every woman on this list has effectively flipped the bird to men.... Other candidates for W of the Y included Nancy Pelosi, who stabbed Democrat men in the back to get into power, Enron's Sharon Watkins, WorldCom's Cynthia Cooper and the FBI's Colleen Rowley. They got the award because they brought down a bunch of guys.

Rush Limbaugh fears being made unnecessary, and most likely so do his dittoheads. But how could the movements promoting equal rights for women, ethnic minorities or gays make him and dittohead men like him unnecessary?

This is only possible if the Limbaugh view of his own identity hinges crucially on being superior to others, if his view of being white or heterosexual is based on whiteness or heterosexuality being 'better', and if his view of being a man includes the idea of men as lords and masters and a strict exclusion of women from the public sphere. If ones identity is built on NOT being like the other groups, then any progress in the relative standind of these groups is going to aim directly at the foundation of ones personal well-being.

No wonder Rush Limbaugh is so fanatic in his views. I would be, too, if I saw the world changing in ways which threaten my very cornerstone. Poor Rush. What's even sadder is the fact that it would have been a lot easier to build a healthier self-identity than to try to have the whole world stand still so that this wouldn't be necessary. Still, I shouldn't feel too sorry for him. He's made millions out of his pet neuroses and caused much pain and suffering in the process.

And he has also successfully misdirected the anger of many of the dittoheads. Working-class men in the United States have seen a considerable drop in their real earnings during the last two decades. The current Republican policies are only going to encourage this drop through their effects on exporting jobs and on clamping down on labor unionization. But instead of addressing these very real causes of discontent, what does Rush offer his dittoheads? Most recently, the mythical castrating female, in this example Hillary Clinton:

.. Limbaugh and the vast conservative talk machine are working overtime to assure the under-employed and threatened men of America that the target of their rage should not be conservative policies but, instead, castrating women. Hillary is behind the campaign to put men's testicles in a lock box, and it's those damn liberals who are responsible for all the ills that have befallen the working class.

So, how should Rush Limbaugh be classified? What can be learned from this intensive exploration of his world? That he's still an idiot, I'm afraid.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Women in 2003 According to Katha Pollitt

She's in the optimistic mode/mood, this time. For example:

Still, it's the end of the year, so let's break out the champagne for good news around the world for women in 2003--accomplishments, activism, bold deeds and grounds for hope.

1. Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Iranian feminist and human rights crusader is the first Muslim woman to receive this honor. The ayatollahs are furious!

2. Hormone replacement therapy was further debunked. Instead of protecting you from Alzheimer's, it doubles your risk. The unmasking of HRT is a major triumph for the women's health movement, which has claimed for decades that its supposed benefits are drug-industry hype. You can read all about it in Barbara Seaman's devastating exposé, The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women: Exploding the Estrogen Myth.

3. Antiwar activism got a feminist edge. The Lysistrata Project saw 1,029 productions of Aristophanes' hilarious, bawdy comedy performed all over the world on March 3. Code Pink took on Bush--and Schwarzenegger--with nervy humor.

4. Barbara Ransby's moving and invaluable Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision illuminated a behind-the-scenes heroine of the civil rights struggle. As Ransby showed, there are other, more egalitarian ways to move forward than by playing follow the leader.

5. A Department of Education commission rejected energetic efforts to water down Title IX, the main legal vehicle promoting equality for women's athletics in schools; the Supreme Court didn't overturn affirmative action.

6. Some movies had leading female characters who were not wives, girlfriends, prostitutes or assassins: Whale Rider, Bend It Like Beckham, Sylvia, Mona Lisa Smile. Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation got raves. Older women were beautiful and sexy in Swimming Pool, starring the ever-fabulous Charlotte Rampling, and in Something's Gotta Give, where 57-year-old Diane Keaton gets to choose between grumpy-old-man Jack Nicholson and boy toy Keanu Reeves.

Read the rest here.