Wednesday, December 07, 2005


The carmaker. It doesn't have the most liberal of histories:

In the 1921 screed "The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem," automaker and notorious anti-Semite Henry Ford observed that "most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone's Birth." He noted menacingly, "Now, all this begins with the designers of the cards."

Interesting, isn't it, when you consider the O'Reilly argument that Christmas is under attack now, too? And given this little news item about Ford today:

This is from, the publication that broke the Ford story last week, and it's owned by Primedia, it's a real industry publication:

Ford Motor Co.'s decision to cease advertising in gay publications for its Jaguar and Land Rover luxury brands is part of a truce between the auto maker and the American Family Assn. (AFA) to avert a threatened boycott by the right-wing Christian conservative group, Ward‚s learns....

As part of the latest agreement hammered out Nov. 29, sources confirm Volvo Cars will continue to advertise in the publications but will use generic ads not tailored to the gay community.

In addition, Ford has agreed not to sponsor any future gay and lesbian events but will continue to maintain its employee policies, such as same-sex partner benefits.

I'm not sure what to say. But Ford has certainly made it easier for me to decide on my next car purchase...

From Echidne's Mailbag

Yesterday was the sixteenth anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. This is a touching post on it.

Emily's List has announced its support for the following Democratic candidates:

· Francine Busby for California's 50th District

· Peggy Lamm for Colorado's 7th District

· Paula Hollinger for Maryland's 3rd District

· Patricia Madrid for New Mexico's 1st District

· Nancy Nusbaum for Wisconsin's 8th District

And the question of whether men should have a choice over a woman's pregnancy is discussed here, as in many other places in the blogosphere. This debate is another example of what happens to the women's bodies when we redefine the point at which a human being is born: they become something everybody wants to control.

Harold Pinter On Politics

This year's Nobel Prize winner in literature, Harold Pinter, has some tough words to say about both the United States and the United Kingdom:

On Wednesday his lecture, entitled Art, Truth and Politics, studied the importance of truth in art before decrying its perceived absence in politics.

He said politicians feel it is "essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives".

Pinter said the US justification for invading Iraq - that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction - "was not true".

"The truth is something entirely different," Pinter added. "The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it."

I agree with Pinter about the politicians' desire to have us live in ignorance, and most people indeed live in almost total ignorance of the world events and their hidden underpinnings. Maybe there is no other way of enduring it all, but we probably would have a better society if more people had the time and energy to be informed and active. Maybe.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

American Diplomacy

Listen to this:

The United States snubbed a call by host Canada on Tuesday for 189-nation climate talks in Montreal to launch a two-year search for new ways to fight global warming.

"The United States is opposed to any such discussions," the U.S. delegation at the Nov. 28-Dec. 9 talks said in a statement, reiterating remarks by chief negotiator Harlan Watson earlier in the week.

Can you see why we are not exactly loved abroad? If the Bush administration insists on acting like the bully of the class, well, the other countries are going to react like you would towards the bully.

The evidence on global warming is pretty good. Even my gardening diaries show a change over the last five years. But I guess this administration thinks that Rapture will arrive before the earth becomes uninhabitable. Grrr.

The Real Hot 100

This is today's alert from

Know a younger woman that's breaking barriers, fighting stereotypes, and making a difference in their community or the nation? Nominate her today for the REAL hot 100*!

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Blog Stuff

Housecleaning before Christmas! I have gone through my blogroll and added some new blogs. Let me know if your blog should be there and is not, or if you want your blog taken off the roll. Right now I have mixed blogs and other types of sites but one day I may create separate categories. If I feel especially energetic or something. Not likely to happen.

You should also notice my excellent advertisers on the right, especially right before Christmas and other holidays, to remain unnamed. You might have to buy a gift to your wingnut relative and the firms on the right have many good ideas for that. See how commercial I have fallen!

The Christmas gift for this blog is broadband. Which you, my dear readers (or the choicest among you), have paid for. I just did my accounts for my blogging enterprise and I am only seven dollars in the red! Next year will probably be the year when I break into Big Time (not to be confused with Dick Cheney), and then you can tell your grandchildren that you were present when that happened.

Actually, the Big Time is right now, today, as is all of our lives. So carpe diem.

The Girl Reporter on Religion

That would be me, a sort of divine version of Nancy Drew, and you will get the benefits of this transformation.

First, the Catholic church is telling God that some changes will now be made to limbo, the place where unbaptized babies go to slumber:

According to Italian media reports on Tuesday, an international theological commission will advise Pope Benedict to eliminate the teaching about limbo from the Catholic catechism.

The Catholic Church teaches that babies who die before they can be baptized go to limbo, whose name comes from the Latin for "border" or "edge," because they deserve neither heaven nor hell.

Last October, seven months before he died, Pope John Paul asked the commission to come up with "a more coherent and enlightened way" of describing the fate of such innocents.

Nancy Drew has trouble with this. Either there is a limbo and God arranged it to exist or there is no such thing, and the church has been telling stories about it all these centuries. If there is one, how can the church find "a more coherent and enlightened way" of describing it? And if there isn't one, why all the lying?

This is linked to the questions Nancy Drew has about how saints are created. It seems to her that it's mortals on earth who decide on sainthood and that seems wrong. Shouldn't it be God who does the sorting of the sheep and the goats? And why is it only celibate men who decide on the quality of limbo and on what makes people saints?

I guess that is what faith means? Religions have done a lot of good but I (Nancy) really think that believers should make a distinction between gods and their followers.

Some of these followers don't actually believe in any divinities at all. They just cynically exploit religions to cause people to rise up and vote for them or even to rise up and kill for them. The first version of this is evident in the United States. As James Wolcott wrote recently:

"'A year ago, I asked Kristol after a lecture whether he believed in God or not. He got a twinkle in his eye and responded, "I don't believe in God, I have faith in God." Well, faith, as it says in Hebrews 11:1, "is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." But at the recent AEI lecture, journalist Ben Wattenberg asked him the same thing. Kristol responded that "that is a stupid question," and crisply restated his belief that religion is essential for maintaining social discipline. A much younger (and perhaps less circumspect) Kristol asserted in a 1949 essay that in order to prevent the social disarray that would occur if ordinary people lost their religious faith, "it would indeed become the duty of the wise publicly to defend and support religion."'

"Here we have a guy who plainly doesn't believe in God, but who thinks that well-padded intellectual elitists like himself ought to evade the issue in public for fear of demoralizing the proles and perhaps jeopardizing some padding thereby. I can't think of anything nice to say about that; and in fact, the only things I CAN think of to say would not be suitable for a family website...

Straussian stuff. And how exactly does religion work as a social discipline? Rorschach links to this piece of news about it all:

A professor whose planned course on creationism and intelligent design was canceled after he sent e-mails deriding Christian conservatives was hospitalized Monday after what appeared to be a roadside beating.

University of Kansas religious studies professor Paul Mirecki said that the two men who beat him made references to the class that was to be offered for the first time this spring.

Originally called "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies," the course was canceled last week at Mirecki's request.

The class was added after the Kansas State Board of Education decided to include more criticism of evolution in science standards for elementary and secondary students.

"I didn't know them," Mirecki said of his assailants, "but I'm sure they knew me."

One recent e-mail from Mirecki to members of a student organization referred to religious conservatives as "fundies," and said a course describing intelligent design as mythology would be a "nice slap in their big fat face." Mirecki has apologized for those comments.

Lt. Kari Wempe, a spokeswoman for the Douglas County Sheriff's Department, said a deputy was dispatched to Lawrence Memorial Hospital after receiving a call around 7 a.m. regarding a battery.

She said Mirecki reported he was attacked around 6:40 a.m. in rural Douglas County south of Lawrence. Mirecki told the Lawrence Journal-World that he was driving to breakfast when he noticed the men tailgating him in a pickup truck.

"I just pulled over hoping they would pass, and then they pulled up real close behind," he said. "They got out, and I made the mistake of getting out."

He said the men beat him on the head, shoulders and back with their fists, and possibly a metal object.

Wempe said Mirecki drove himself to the hospital after the attack.

This is what religion does in the little puddles of Kansas. What it does in the much larger waves of Iraq does not bear thinking about.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Today's Action Alert

Amnesty International USA and the Moving Ideas Network are hosting a webchat about women’s rights in Guatemala. Entitled Ending Violence Against Women in Guatemala, the chat will focus on the brutal killings of Guatemalan women and girls that have claimed more than 1,188 lives. People can submit questions in advance that will be answered by experts on this issue on Wednesday, December 7 from 1 – 2 PM EST.

If you are interested in participating, go to Moving Ideas for more information.

You Are Either For Us Or...

That is the shorter summary of Condoleezza Rice's message to the Europeans on the questions of rendition and the possible use of European countries as places to hide various terrorist suspects. She reminded those arrogant Old Europeans that whatever we are doing is saving their hides, too! Well, not in Madrid and not in London, but in principle.

But she didn't deny the existence of U.S. interrogation centers in Europe:

In her remarks, the Bush Administration's official response to the reports of a network of secret detention centers, Ms. Rice repeatedly emphasized that the United States does not countenance the torture of terrorism suspects, at the hands of either American or foreign captors.

She offered her remarks to reporters early this morning, in a departure lounge at Andrews Air Force Base, just before setting off for a trip to Europe, where she was certain to be asked about the growing controversy over the secret Central Intelligence Agency prisons believed to be located in at least eight European nations. Her statement is also to serve as the basis for the government's response to an official inquiry from the European Union over the secret prisons.

Noting that half-a-dozen international investigations are underway, Ms. Rice did not explicitly confirm the existence of the detentions center. But that was implicit in her remarks.

"We must bring terrorists to justice wherever possible," she said. "But there have been many cases where the local government cannot detain or prosecute a suspect, and traditional extradition is not a good option."

"In those cases," she added, "the local government can make the sovereign choice to cooperate in the transfer of a suspect to a third country, which is known as a rendition.

"Sometimes, these efforts are misunderstood," she said.

News reports starting early last month said the Central Intelligence Agency began holding dozens of terror suspects in secret prisons in as many as eight European nations shortly after Sept. 11. The Administration has not confirmed the reports but has repeatedly maintained that it is abiding by American law and international agreements. Officials have also repeatedly said that the United States and the European states share a common concern about terrorism.

I want to hear a lot more about "the efforts being misunderstood", a lot more. Like in what way are we misunderstanding them, exactly? Is it that the European interrogation centers were just chosen because they had excellent food and beer?

The U.S. administration doesn't understand the Europeans at all, which is not very surprising as this administration has shown itself incapable of understanding anyone who isn't a religious wingnut or a wealthy corporation. I think that someone should tell Rice about this:

An unnamed European diplomat who had contact with US officials over the handling of the scandals told Reuters yesterday: 'It's very clear they want European governments to stop pushing on this... They were stuck on the defensive for weeks, but suddenly the line has toughened up incredibly.'

Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative MP who will be chairing a Commons committee of MPs along with Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, has said Rice needs to make a clear statement. She 'does not seem to realise that for a large section of Washington and European opinion, the Bush administration is in a shrinking minority of people that has not grasped that lowering our standards [on human rights] makes us less, not more, secure'.

That's it, in a nutshell.

Flip-Flopping vs. Bull-Headed Stupidity

The manner in which the U.S. media describes the Democratic and Republican ideas about how to get out of Iraq could be summarized as done in my heading for this post, but only because I feel very generous today. In reality, the media contrasts Democratic disarray and flip-floppery and internal fights with the clear plan of Republicans (which happens to be a really stupid one, too). The neutrality of the media requires bashing of the Democrats:

It didn't take long for the Republicans to pounce. "Nancy Pelosi's flip-flop on troop withdrawal further demonstrates the deep division and chronic indecision that exist within the Democrat Party on the war on terror," New York Rep. Tom Reynolds, head of the House Republican Campaign Committee, told Reuters earlier this week. The Washington Times says Republican leaders are "delighted" by the "chaos" among Democrats. When the Democrat running against Tom DeLay in 2006 finds himself forced to say whether he supports the "Pelosi-Murtha" plan for Iraq, it's easy to see why the GOP might be pleased.

The Democratic Leadership Council's Marshall Wittmann tells the Post that the Democrats' response on Iraq -- and, in particular, Pelosi's public flip-flop -- plays right into the hands of Republicans who need to convince the public that the opposition still can't be trusted on matters of national security. "If Karl Rove was writing the timing of this, he wouldn't have written it any differently, with the president of the United States expressing resolve and the Democratic leader offering surrender," Wittmann said. "For Republicans, this is manna from heaven."

It is true that some Democrats are in deep shit because they voted for the war initially and now want to be publicly opposed to it. But we all know what lay behind the yes-vote. At the time of that vote a nay-vote was seen as political suicide. We were all firmly behind George Bush then, weren't we? The whole country wore little wingnut-masks and waved little American flags, and every single politician knew that voting against the war would probably be identical to retiring from politics. Yes, this was contemptible but such are human beings.

I prefer confusion and flip-floppery to a plan which just maps the shortest road to hell for more and more people. And no, the two parties are not in the wrong by an equal amount.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Sunday Hank Blogging (and Henrietta, too)

Hank is doing very well. Her main tumor can't be felt anymore and the other is about one tenth of its original size. She is back to being an Everready Energy Bunny most days and making my life as difficult as usual. Yesterday she jumped down from a six foot tall wall and then Henrietta wrestled her into submission. Which means that even Henrietta thinks she is well enough to be beaten. So we are all happy.

But the oncologist has warned us that Hank still probably only has twelve months to go, though she also pointed out a couple of total miracle recoveries in the same situation. Every day is good, though, and none of us knows when the Last Mailcarrier knocks.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Did You Know That Samuel Alito is God in Disguise?

I kid you not:

Several conservative groups, meanwhile, plan a major push beginning Monday to portray Alito's opponents as anti-God. Talking points for the effort, which will involve ads and grass-roots organizations, were laid out in a strategy memo by, which opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. Alito's opponents are united by "an agenda to purge any and all references to religion from our public life," the memo says.

The coalition, which includes the Judicial Confirmation Network, plans to send 2.3 million e-mails on the subject and hopes to "flood Senate offices with letters, faxes and phone calls." It will be joined in the effort by Fidelis, a Roman Catholic organization that describes itself as "pro-life, pro-family and pro-religious liberty."

Well, ok, I kid a little. Alito is not God, just God's anointed henchman, it seems.

On Wolf Whistles

Interesting how something that can be a compliment can also become extremely frightening. I'm talking about compliments to a woman (or a man) for good looks and the phenomenom of street harassment. There is more than a fine line between the two. It's possible to compliment someone with a nice smile or an admiring look. To make loud and rude comments about a person's breasts or penis (does this happen?) or buttocks implies that the caller feels somehow entitled to make such public judgements. It tends to make the object of the comments feel debased, dirty and vulnerable, and if there is a group of commenters who act menacingly the whole thing becomes a nightmare. Lots of women experience this shit almost daily.

One Christmas vacation during my graduate school years I was almost alone on campus because I had a conference paper to prepare and couldn't go home. I had to use the main library daily. This caused real problems for me, because the university had used the opportunity of a quiet campus to have some building work done in the entrance hall of the library, so it was full of men taking their elevenses and lunch breaks and dinner breaks, looking for something interesting to happen.

That something interesting to happen was me. I have never received so many comments on my boobs (commendable, and should have various things done to them), my eyes (deep as lakes etcetera) and my buttocks (not telling you what was said about them). Not only did I have to listen to these comments but I also had to do a gauntlet through a group of these men at least twice every day. I was scared shitless as polite bloggers say.

Things were not improved by the fact that I didn't respond to the comments, even though their nature got more heated and accusatory as days passed by. It wasn't enough that I allowed the comments, it seems; I was expected to acknowledge them, too. I ended up pretending that I don't speak English at all. And yes, I know that was stupid but I was still a fledgling feminist and didn't think very clearly about my options.

This is not my only experience of street harassment. The incidences are too numerous to even remember. But in this one I was scared, because the power balance was badly against me and because I felt that there was some real threat of physical assault. But I was also thinking how I probably looked like a privileged bitch to these men and how that punched their buttons or something. The usual women-must-be-responsible-and-understanding-crap. And there is also a real problem in being polite and middle-of-the-road. I'm confessing it all here so that you can do better, my dear readers.

In any case, my point is that something that may look like a compliment is not one when the subtext is about power to judge another's body, possibly even about the power to take that body by force. A new blog about street harassment takes the discussion further.

Bad People

That is us. Me and others who blog on the left. Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter are quivering in their boots, going around with large troops to keep them secure and complaining loudly about what bad people we are. It's the same Ann Coulter, by the way, who recommended a baseball bat as the instrument to debate liberals with, and the same Ann Coulter who said this yesterday:

O'REILLY: All right. But it gets to be frightening. And I -- look, in my own case, I have to have security, and obviously --

COULTER: Any conservative does.

O'REILLY: Yeah, but I think liberals, some -- well, I don't know. Look, there's no question --

COULTER: No liberal has to have security. Though I'd like to change that.

And Bill O'Reilly, the same Bill O'Reilly who has a mouth like a sewer, whines and moans that criticism of his misinformation by Media Matters for America amounts to choking him out, amounts to denying him his freedom of expression. I never realized that freedom of expression means the right to have all ones lies uncorrected.

Read the whole hallucinatory conversation between these two oddballs. It ends with the resounding judgement that us lefty bloggers are Bad People.

I'm trying to kill Santa Claus, by the way, because he has single-handedly done more to destroy the religious nature of Christmas than anyone else alive (or not alive, as the case may be). If I succeed I will come across as a very good person and then O'Reilly will apologize. Oops. I got carried away there. Sorry.

But to bring some reality into this weird twilight world may I just remind my readers to think about the political affiliation of those in this country who have resorted to killing their opponents. The number of right-wingers doing this far exceeds anything the bad people on the left have managed to do. Unless you include pie-throwing among the lethal attacks, of course.

Friday, December 02, 2005

How Democracy Works: A Lesson For The Innocents

Remember the Texas redistricting debacle? Yes, the one that gave the Republicans five more representatives. This is how it came about:

Justice Department lawyers concluded that the landmark Texas congressional redistricting plan spearheaded by Representative Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas, violated the Voting Rights Act, according to a previously undisclosed memo obtained by the Washington Post. But senior officials overruled them and approved the plan.

The memo, unanimously endorsed by six lawyers and two analysts in the department's voting section, said the redistricting plan illegally diluted black and Hispanic voting power in two congressional districts. It also said the plan eliminated several other districts in which minorities had a substantial, though not necessarily decisive, influence in elections.

''The State of Texas has not met its burden in showing that the proposed congressional redistricting plan does not have a discriminatory effect," the memo concluded.

The memo also found that Republican lawmakers and state officials who helped craft the proposal were aware it posed a high risk of being ruled discriminatory compared with other options.

But the Texas Legislature proceeded with the new map anyway because it would maximize the number of Republican federal lawmakers in the state, the memo said. The redistricting was approved in 2003, and Texas Republicans gained five seats in the US House in the 2004 elections, solidifying GOP control of Congress.

Are we going to see this principle inserted into the text books of the future? What will we tell the children?

Friday Fatigue

Boy, am I tired after those marathon posts (see the next two). If you don't want me all grumpy you will read them.

I want to post something light and lovely this Friday but so far the world of news is refusing to provide me with suitable topics. Instead, I found out that the Italians are planning to pay women to forego abortions. The idea is that a certain proportion of abortions is caused by economic hardship. If these women are giving extra funds they may decide not to abort the fetus. Here comes the truly stupid thing: the timing of the funding:

Under the scheme women in straitened economic circumstances would get between €250 (£170) and €350 a month for up to six months before giving birth.

Before giving birth? The real expenses start piling up after giving birth, but pro-lifers don't seem to be too interested in the born child. They are only interested in the "unborn child".

Meanwhile, in the good ole U.S. of A, we find that Alito once explicitly stated his views on Roe. This is what he wrote in 1985:

"As Civil [the Justice Department's Civil Division] notes," Alito wrote, "no one seriously believes that the court is about to overrule Roe. But the court's decision to review" the Pennsylvania law "may be a positive sign. . . . By taking these cases, the court may be signaling an inclination to cut back," on Roe.

"What can be made of this opportunity to advance the goals of bringing about the eventual overruling of Roe v. Wade , Alito wrote, and in the "meantime, of mitigating its effects?"

With Alito on the bench you better start saving those wire hangers.
The first link and the idea about it are thanks to Sofiya24

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Longest Revolution, Part II

Feminists call the women's movement of the 1960s and 70s, especially in the United States, the second wave of feminism. The first wave (which ended in the 1920s) won women the vote and the right to have some sort of a presence in the public sector. The second wave opened women the doors to most occupations. These waves, and others like them in earlier history, are not sudden inexplicable events. They are caused and made possible by societal and economic changes. The second wave, for example, grew out of the post-war attempt to redomesticate women, the already growing female labor market participation rate, and the political developments of the era which focused on equality and justice.

It is the nature of political movements to die when their main goals have been achieved, and this is what happened after both the first and the second wave. The backlash against emancipating women can be observed in the 1930s and at least since the 1980s. Here is Ray Strachey in Our Freedom and Its Results, published in 1936:

Modern young a strong hostility to the word "feminism", and all which they imagine it to connote. They are, nevertheless, themselves the products of the women's movement.

Sound familiar? And this was after the first wave...

These backlashes are responses to the gains feminism achieved, attempts to reverse these gains by those who have the most to lose from greater societal gender equality. Luckily, the backlashers have so far been unable to completely negate the gains of women though for each two steps forwards one step has been taken back.

I believe that we are still living the backlash to the second wave of feminism. The attempts to reverse Roe v. Wade, the religious right's desire to institute sex-segregated education, the fight against Title IX which guarantees girls and women equal access to education as well as the resistance towards anti-discrimination laws are all signs of this backlash. I would also include the many recent articles on women opting out of the labor force, on the framing of boys' problems at school as being caused by feminism and the Limbaugh-type name-calling of feminists in the backlash movement.

This, then is the background against which I read Linda Hirshman's article: that we are still living in the gloomy years of backlash and that everything we read must be interpreted in this framework. And indeed, Hirshman shows us how the backlash works on employed mothers:

But then the pace slowed. The census numbers for all working mothers leveled off around 1990 and have fallen modestly since 1998. In interviews, women with enough money to quit work say they are "choosing" to opt out. Their words conceal a crucial reality: the belief that women are responsible for child-rearing and homemaking was largely untouched by decades of workplace feminism. Add to this the good evidence that the upper-class workplace has become more demanding and then mix in the successful conservative cultural campaign to reinforce traditional gender roles and you've got a perfect recipe for feminism's stall.

Indeed. It would be rather astonishing to find that feminism wouldn't stall given the enormous amount of conservative pushing in the anti-feminist direction and the fact pointed out in the above quote: that gender equality in the private sector, especially at home, is still an unattained goal of feminism. Not that second wave feminists didn't try; I have read dozens of books advocating the sharing of housework and childraising, and some minor progress can be noticed even here. But achieving full equality at home requires something more than women's eager participation in another revolution. It requires men's active participation, too, and so far the society does not reward men for such participation. Neither does the new men's rights movement attach any importance whatsoever on the kind of fathering that all men deserve to experience: hands-on and daily. Rather, the movement is more interested in returning us to a pre-1960s status quo.

So what is a feminist woman to do in this situation? Clearly, women follow various strategies and as pointed out by Hirshman, some of them are more damaging to the general progress of women than others. To give one example, if many educated women decide not to use their degrees in the world of work how long will it take before we start reading about the waste of societal resources on the higher education of women? It's worth pointing out that graduate education is highly subsidized by the general society and that tuition only pays a small fraction of the costs of, say, a medical degree. If women don't plan to use this subsidized education should they really have equal access to it? And as the original article points out, where will we get the female decision-makers of the future if the current crop of educated women retreats from the public sector altogether?

But it's good to remember that women are put into a double-bind here, as I pointed out in the first part of this post. Hirshman is correct when she argues that the gendered allocation of work at home is to blame for this. The right-wing propaganda aiming at causing guilt among employed mothers isn't helping, and neither is the unresponsiveness of the labor market to the needs of parents.

All this is hidden when feminism is interpreted as the idea of increasing women's choices. I find the idea of feminism as "choice" very close to feminism "lite", something that advertisements employ to make us buy more stuff we don't need, something so vague and generalized that it doesn't ultimately mean anything. Almost anything can be framed as a choice, after all, including the "choice" to become subjugated to a religious wingnut godly husband.

Add to this the fact that when most people hear the term "choice" they immediately visualize a situation of leisurely freedom, a situation of someone picking, say, the favorite color of a t-shirt or a dessert from a restaurant menu. This connotation of "choice" totally ignores how choices are made under constraints of power, of societal gender roles and of money. It is not at all clear that women's choices to drop out or not are "free" choices.

Choices also have consequences. As Hirshman points out, when couples with children calculate the financial effects of hiring a nanny or having one partner (usually the woman) stay at home with the children the calculations are often done not only unfairly in the sense of deducting all the costs from the potential stay-at-home parent's earnings but also shortsightedly by ignoring the long-term effects of the stay-at-home parent's financial outlook. Women and men who drop out of the labor force for longer periods of time never really catch up to their continuously working counterparts and their retirement incomes will be diminished. These costs should be taken into account in the financial calculations.

And choices have societal consequences, although these are probably unimportant in the private calculations of individual men and women. Nevertheless, if the stay-at-home parents are almost always women employers will start assuming that most, if not all, women will quit working in the middle of their careers. Why train such women? Why promote them? Though not doing so might be illegal we all know that such calculations are being made by those hiring and promoting workers all the time, and the overall effect of this will be to depress women's average earnings. This, in turn, will almost guarantee that it is the women who are going to stay at home if someone is, because the loss of their earned income will be less. Circles within circles.

At the same time, parents are concerned about the rearing of their children, and most want to spend time with them. Childcare can be difficult to find and of low quality, and when good childcare is available it will be expensive. The labor market is not kind and gentle towards parents with small children or towards anyone with caregiving obligations and the parental leave in this country is a truly nasty joke for most. And, as Hirshman points out, taking care of children is very much seen as the mothers' responsibility.

Maybe the third wave of feminism will solve these problems. Or maybe not. It could be that a wholesale refusal by educated women to have children would force the necessary changes in the societal value judgements and the labor markets. But I doubt that, and most women do want to have children.

In the absence of a new wave of feminism, Hirshman advice to a career-minded young woman is well worth considering:

There are three rules: Prepare yourself to qualify for good work, treat work seriously, and don't put yourself in a position of unequal resources when you marry.

The preparation stage begins with college. It is shocking to think that girls cut off their options for a public life of work as early as college. But they do. The first pitfall is the liberal-arts curriculum, which women are good at, graduating in higher numbers than men. Although many really successful people start out studying liberal arts, the purpose of a liberal education is not, with the exception of a miniscule number of academic positions, job preparation.

So the first rule is to use your college education with an eye to career goals. Feminist organizations should produce each year a survey of the most common job opportunities for people with college degrees, along with the average lifetime earnings from each job category and the characteristics such jobs require. The point here is to help women see that yes, you can study art history, but only with the realistic understanding that one day soon you will need to use your arts education to support yourself and your family. The survey would ask young women to select what they are best suited for and give guidance on the appropriate course of study. Like the rule about accepting no dates for Saturday after Wednesday night, the survey would set realistic courses for women, helping would-be curators who are not artistic geniuses avoid career frustration and avoid solving their job problems with marriage.

Very good advice. I have been shocked to find that a large number of the women I have talked to admit that they paid no attention to the profitability of the field of work they chose until it was too late to do much about it. Remember the circles within circles? Given the fact that most men choose their careers largely based on income potential this gender disparity means that it will be the women who will opt out or at least bear the brunt of household and childrearing tasks.

Why this difference in the economic awareness of men and women? I suspect that it is mostly a reflex-like leftover from the era of traditional gender roles though some individuals probably make these choices consciously, too. Whichever the case, a career-minded woman should pay much more attention to what she studies and how she treats her job.

Avoiding a marriage or a partnership with someone who has access to more resources might also be good advice if it can be achieved, and so is the emphasis on more equal sharing of chores:

If you are good at work you are in a position to address the third undertaking: the reproductive household. The rule here is to avoid taking on more than a fair share of the second shift. If this seems coldhearted, consider the survey by the Center for Work-Life Policy. Fully 40 percent of highly qualified women with spouses felt that their husbands create more work around the house than they perform. According to Phyllis Moen and Patricia Roehling's Career Mystique, "When couples marry, the amount of time that a woman spends doing housework increases by approximately 17 percent, while a man's decreases by 33 percent."

And please remember the chore of keeping track of the chores in the fair division of labor within the home. Almost nothing is as soul-draining as having to be the one who is always in charge of remembering whether the toilet paper has run out, whether there is enough milk for the morning cereal and whether Fido's veterinarian appointment was this week or the next.

Struggles. A lot of individual struggles. It would probably be more efficient to just initiate the third wave of feminism and get some real change in the societal institutions. What would such a movement look like? As I mentioned earlier, it would certainly have to include men in much more active roles and it would have to address the question of who does what at home as well as at work. But I also believe that we need much more discussion on the value of the unpaid and paid work done in households, including the work of caring for children and for the elderly, and more real societal valuation of those who do such work. True, we pay lip service to the mothers (and fathers) who care for their children or to the daughters (and sons) who care for their elderly parents, but we expect them to do all this work without any more compensation than perhaps bread and board and while sacrificing their own future prospects. And paid providers of care are not only paid poorly but on the whole distrusted and viewed as inferior to the unpaid providers.

There are women (and men) who want nothing but a flourishing career from this life, and there are other women (and men) who want nothing but a life spent at home. But if meaningful work is bread and meaningful relationships roses most of us want both. We cannot live by bread alone and we cannot eat the roses. A society that demands we "choose" between the two is indeed ripe for a new feminist movement.

The Longest Revolution, Part I

Or the Woman Question, if you wish. When I was a very young goddess with soft scales and all I thought that this gender business was easy: just share things equally and let everyone have a piece of the cake. Some day I will tell the story of how I lost my innocence and what happened next, but right now I want to talk about Linda Hirshman's recent article in the American Prospect, entitled Homeward Bound. It has created quite a furore in the feminist blogosphere and some very good debate, too. You might do a lot worse than reading the posts by Bitch PhD and 11D and the attached long comments threads.

Hirshman's article talks about the elite women who decide to drop out of their careers and stay at home when they have children. In this she follows the general fashion in writings about women these days: it seems that we are all white, highly educated and homeward bound, that our education was a waste and our biologies the destiny. Where she differs is in her take on all this. She is definitely not delicately analyzing the problem or bemoaning the death of feminism or even really ridiculing the uppity ex-career women who are now ladies-who-lunch. Rather, she is giving us a feminist bootcamp and telling us how to change things. More about that in The Longest Revolution, Part II. In the first part I want to address the validity of Hirshman's basic premise and why the blogosphere discussion on the article is so heated.

Hirshman sets the stage by arguing that a real shift has taken place in the rate at which educated women drop out of the labor force:

Half the wealthiest, most-privileged, best-educated females in the country stay home with their babies rather than work in the market economy. When in September The New York Times featured an article exploring a piece of this story, "Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood," the blogosphere went ballistic, countering with anecdotes and sarcasm. Slate's Jack Shafer accused the Times of "weasel-words" and of publishing the same story -- essentially, "The Opt-Out Revolution" -- every few years, and, recently, every few weeks. (A month after the flap, the Times' only female columnist, Maureen Dowd, invoked the elite-college article in her contribution to the Times' running soap, "What's a Modern Girl to Do?" about how women must forgo feminism even to get laid.) The colleges article provoked such fury that the Times had to post an explanation of the then–student journalist's methodology on its Web site.

There's only one problem: There is important truth in the dropout story. Even though it appeared in The New York Times.

I stumbled across the news three years ago when researching a book on marriage after feminism. I found that among the educated elite, who are the logical heirs of the agenda of empowering women, feminism has largely failed in its goals. There are few women in the corridors of power, and marriage is essentially unchanged. The number of women at universities exceeds the number of men. But, more than a generation after feminism, the number of women in elite jobs doesn't come close.

Why did this happen? The answer I discovered -- an answer neither feminist leaders nor women themselves want to face -- is that while the public world has changed, albeit imperfectly, to accommodate women among the elite, private lives have hardly budged. The real glass ceiling is at home.
Even Ronald Coase, Nobel Prize–winner in economics in 1991, quotes the aphorism that "the plural of anecdote is data." So how many anecdotes does it take to make data? I -- a 1970s member of the National Organization for Women (NOW), a donor to EMILY's List, and a professor of women's studies -- did not set out to find this. I stumbled across the story when, while planning a book, I happened to watch Sex and the City's Charlotte agonize about getting her wedding announcement in the "Sunday Styles" section of The New York Times. What better sample, I thought, than the brilliantly educated and accomplished brides of the "Sunday Styles," circa 1996? At marriage, they included a vice president of client communication, a gastroenterologist, a lawyer, an editor, and a marketing executive. In 2003 and 2004, I tracked them down and called them. I interviewed about 80 percent of the 41 women who announced their weddings over three Sundays in 1996. Around 40 years old, college graduates with careers: Who was more likely than they to be reaping feminism's promise of opportunity? Imagine my shock when I found almost all the brides from the first Sunday at home with their children. Statistical anomaly? Nope. Same result for the next Sunday. And the one after that.

Ninety percent of the brides I found had had babies. Of the 30 with babies, five were still working full time. Twenty-five, or 85 percent, were not working full time. Of those not working full time, 10 were working part time but often a long way from their prior career paths. And half the married women with children were not working at all.

And there is more. In 2000, Harvard Business School professor Myra Hart surveyed the women of the classes of 1981, 1986, and 1991 and found that only 38 percent of female Harvard MBAs were working full time. A 2004 survey by the Center for Work-Life Policy of 2,443 women with a graduate degree or very prestigious bachelor's degree revealed that 43 percent of those women with children had taken a time out, primarily for family reasons. Richard Posner, federal appeals-court judge and occasional University of Chicago adjunct professor, reports that "the [Times] article confirms -- what everyone associated with such institutions [elite law schools] has long known: that a vastly higher percentage of female than of male students will drop out of the workforce to take care of their children."

There is only one thing wrong with this analysis: it is wrong. In fact, as Ampersand points out on Alas a Blog, married women are not opting out in any greater numbers than they did in the 1980's:

Media outlets, and in particular the New York Times, have frequently suggested that mothers - and in particular, well-off, well-educated mothers in their 30s - have been more and more frequently "opting out" of jobs and careers in order to become full-time homemakers. Linda Hirshman recently declared in The American Prospect that "among the affluent-educated-married population, women are letting their careers slide to tend the home fires."

All of these articles were based on a mixture of anecdotes, bad data, and quasi-relevant data. The most relevant data - the labor force participation rates of women with and without children - is collected by the federal government, but hasn't been looked at in these articles. Economist Heather Boushey has put together the data and published the unsurprising truth: women with children are not more likely to opt out nowadays than in previous decades. In fact, the "child penalty' to the likelihood of women working has been in steady decline for years.

Although all women have been less likely to be working in recent years (due to the job market's slow recovery from the last recession), the labor force participation rate (LFPR) of women with children hasn't gone down any faster than the LFPR for women in general. And although it's true that mothers are less likely to work than non-mothers, that difference has become smaller over the years - just the opposite of what "opt-out revolution" articles claim.

This is where I should end the post, because all this opt-out revolution has in fact not happened. Yes, there is anecdotal evidence of women dropping out, especially among the very affluent class that puts wedding announcement in the New York Times, but there has always been such anecdotal evidence. I suspect that there is even anecdotal evidence of men dropping out if someone bothered to dig it up. Of course that would require some fascination with the topic of men dropping out. Not gonna happen. Ask yourself why that would not be news and you immediately enter the wonder halls of feminism.

So married women are not dropping out in larger numbers than before. In fact, women's labor market participation rates are beginning to respond exactly like men's rates which is a fancy way of saying that women no longer view themselves as secondary earners.

But if you cruise the blogosphere you will find that nobody cares about the fact that there is no opt-out trend to talk about. People want to talk about it anyway, and the discussion gets extremely lively. Ponder upon this and you enter even deeper into the labyrinths of the Woman Question. You will also find battles in the mommy wars: affluent versus poorer women, employed women versus mothers at home. And the popcorn is served to those in the audience. They are not mothers, by the way.

There are good reasons for all this. The value of a woman, both to herself and to the wider society, may seriously depend on her perceived track record as a mother and as a worker. Almost every mother fears that those other mothers who made different choices make her look bad. If she is at home she has opted out, is a lady-who-lunches, lazy, a traitor to feminism. If she is working her children are going to turn into mass murderers or Bush-voters, she is a selfish and ambitious mother, a bad mother, and she will roast in hell, too. And a woman who has taken time off for her family will forevermore be labeled as someone uninterested in her career, not promotion-material, whereas the woman who hung on to her job all through her mothering years will be worn to a shred of her former self and probably still won't get the promotions.

I am exaggerating slightly, by the way. Most of the discussions I link to are courteous. It is my internal debates that rage and flame like that. And I haven't even gotten past the elite group of women who can easily afford to have children and then afford to decide on either staying employed or not. The majority of women struggle much more.

The society gives women a heavy burden of guilt, of accusations, of demands for perfection, and the society gives women almost zero help and support or understanding in how they struggle with the mutually impossible demands for their time and energy. For these are mutually impossible. We have the traditional idea of what a Perfect Mother does (stays at home, bakes pies, sacrifices all, endures all) and then we have the traditional idea of what a Perfect Worker does (always works hard, never fails to turn up, has no dependents) and the two cannot be squeezed into one person. But it seems that we are still trying.

And we hold this mirror of perfection in front of every single mother and decide that she doesn't reflect too well. Or that is how it feels to many mothers, and this may explain the extreme sensitivity of this topic, its hurtfulness and its ability to provoke anger. It also explains why the media is so eager to do stories with these messages, for angry people are more likely to read them and publicity is what the media wants. I find that pretty nasty of the media, myself.

Note also that the idea of a Perfect Mother means that we are comparing millions of individual women, all different in various ways, to one single standard. That is crazy. We don't expect all marriages to be exactly the same or all children to have exactly identical needs but we do expect every single mother to be some sort of a hybrid between Virgin Mary, a masochist and an earth mother with no self, yet with the instincts of a Ninja when the children are threatened. This means that if two mothers differ in their childrearing choices, well, one of them must be further away from the Perfect Mother and there will have to be a battle to determine which one it is.

I am not denying that people have strong opinions on whether to have children and on the way to bring them up, just as they have on the type of car to drive or whom to vote for. But hidden in these strong opinions about children and childrearing are strong opinions on how women should behave, how women should lead their lives, and given this I'd expect that people would think twice before giving me their opinions on the whole womankind. When they don't I get truly pissed off, because we rarely if ever tell the whole class of men how to lead their lives or even how to be good fathers. And also because it is impossible to be both a Good Woman and a Good Careerist, given the definitions we have chosen to use.

In my muddled way I have tried to show in this part of my post one reason why the feminist revolution is such a long one. In the United States it has to do with the myth of good mothering, the myth of the lone rugged individual making it all unassisted in the labor force and the incompatibility of the two. It has also a lot to do with the societal mirror which reflects only the woman, all alone with her babies and her job, all alone with the problems and all alone responsible for their solutions. This is the myth which is the most poisonous one and the one I meet all the time when I read articles about feminism. It is as if the society didn't exist, as if fathers didn't exist and as if maternity leave wasn't a pitiful few months.

Hirshman is wrong in her thesis that the rate at which educated women opt out of the labor force has increased recently. But she has clearly struck a nerve with her article and some of the other concerns she addresses are worth a post of their own. This will be the second part of The Longest Revolution