Saturday, July 10, 2010

Friday, July 09, 2010

Save the chubbies (by Suzie)

My local newspaper reported on a boy who wore an “I (heart) boobies” wristband to middle school. No, he was not proclaiming his affection for stupid people or tropical seabirds. Nor was he saying that he liked women’s breasts in any sort of sexual way. His mother made that clear when she said school authorities “should get their minds out of the gutter."

Instead, he said, he just wanted to show support for breast-cancer research.

A teacher told the boy that the wristband was inappropriate for school. On the next school day, he wore it again and wouldn’t take it off. He got a one-day, in-school suspension for insubordination. An assistant principal told him that it was the same as if a girl wore a wristband that said “I (heart) (slang term for penises),” as the newspaper put it delicately. The principal later made his assistant apologize for the remark.

Actually, it’s not the same. Our society gives status to males for sexuality but penalizes girls. If a 14-year-old girl wore a wristband that said, “I (heart) cocks,” some would consider her a slut or say she was inviting harassment. A boy is just being a boy, you know?

Some of you may argue that a woman’s breasts are not genitals, and thus, penises aren’t an equivalent. But that would be hard to tell in our culture. In your local sex shop, if there’s a coffee mug with a penis on it, you can expect a coffee mug with breasts.

Let’s say a boy wears an “I (heart) pussy” bracelet to raise awareness about vaginal and vulvar cancers. Even then, he would be viewed differently from the girl with the cock-loving bracelet.

(We do need to raise awareness about gynecologic cancers, by the way. How many of you can rattle off the symptoms of ovarian cancer, for example?

Straight women will wear tight, low-cut T-shirts proclaiming, “I (heart) boobies,” because it shows that they are fun and sexy. We’d never get straight men to wear tight shorts proclaiming, “I (heart) cocks.” They might wear ones saying “I (heart) my cock,” although that goes without saying.

Zazzle has I (heart) cock merchandise, although it doesn’t appear to benefit penile-cancer awareness. Learn from my mistake: Don’t search for such merchandise unless you (heart) big photos of erect penises on your screen. Ditto for I (heart) pussy merchandise. Oh, and here’s some Zazzle humor on prostate cancer. Before his surgery for prostate cancer, a friend suggested the title of this post as a slogan to raise awareness of prostate cancer; its treatment can make it harder for a man to get hard. I have a couple more: “Detection saves erections” and “Get it up – fight prostate cancer.”

There’s a real organization to raise awareness about male genital cancers called Save the Tadpoles. (People are going to be making plays on the original “save the whales” slogan long after whales are extinct.) The Tadpole site says: “The struggle against men's cancers is where the breast cancer awareness campaign was thirty years ago.”

In those decades, our society has gone from acting like a woman who lost a breast lost her sexuality to making breast-cancer awareness fun and sexy. Is this how we have to sell it? Loving women isn’t enough; men will have to make it about themselves? They’ll have to reinforce their masculinity by declaring that, yes, they love them some boobies? Women don’t care enough about themselves, but they’ll shop and party in pink? Do we care more about saving breasts than saving women’s lives?

Last year, Erin Chapman commented on a video gone viral that features a woman in a bikini to raise awareness about breast cancer. Please read her column because she makes a lot of good points (which I swear I was working on before I found her writing. Curse these last-minute searches!) Campaigns that emphasize the love of healthy breasts may hurt survivors who already feel self-conscious from their surgeries, Chapman says.

I planned to end this post with righteous anger. But time passed, and I thought of all the ways that people, including me, try to raise money. I briefly considered selling shoes with my foot imprint on eBay for my nonprofit. At a medical conference, another patient advocate asked, “Who do I have to blow around here to get some respect?” I replied, “If only it were that easy.” I guess we’re stuck with bake sales and T-shirts and who-knows-what-else until we have a better system for health care and research.
Next week: More on raising money to save ta-tas and other body parts, with a happy ending.

Some Weekend Reading

I recommend this article by Eric Alterman. It addresses many of the issues that have caused the progressive malaise of 2010, it explains the background and it suggests new approaches. I don't agree with everything Alterman concludes but to have all this material in one place is extremely useful.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

Ah, the feel of wind in your face. Actually, I don't know if the window is open or not. Closed is safer. Once again, this is Mi Hija.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons

You smile and make a big jug of ice-cold lemonade! Or if you are Sharron Angle, running for the Nevada Senate seat, you apply the metaphor to rape and incest victims:

STOCK: What do you say then to a young girl, I am going to place it as he said it, when a young girl is raped by her father, let's say, and she is pregnant. How do you explain this to her in terms of wanting her to go through the process of having the baby?

ANGLE: I think that two wrongs don't make a right. And I have been in the situation of counseling young girls, not 13 but 15, who have had very at risk, difficult pregnancies. And my counsel was to look for some alternatives, which they did. And they found that they had made what was really a lemon situation into lemonade. Well one girl in particular moved in with the adoptive parents of her child, and they both were adopted. Both of them grew up, one graduated from high school, the other had parents that loved her and she also graduated from high school. And I'll tell you the little girl who was born from that very poor situation came to me when she was 13 and said 'I know what you did thank you for saving my life.' So it is meaningful to me to err on the side of life.

So much to address there, so little time. But perhaps Angle will also demand that anyone who matches must be forced to donate a kidney to a needy person. The experience offers us lemons which we can then turn into a spiritual lemonade!

When life gives me lemons I prefer to squirt them in the eyes of mine enemies.

Verrry Interesting

This Pew study on opinions about gender roles across many countries. It's mostly quite positive and makes me full of hope, like a balloon ready to take off.

This Celebrity Bidness

Lindsey Lohan is in the news not because of her skills at her profession but because she is going to jail for probation violations. And because she comes across as a silly spoiled brat and because the public loves stories about celebrities which have nothing to do with the reason they are celebrities, be it singing or acting, say, but loads to do with their general behavior, their marital and other relationships, their babies and their bodies. The celebrities most in demand are young women, especially young women who are seen as behaving very badly. Britney Spears, Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan.

And the judge-and-jury for this is the general public. Read the comments on some of the celebrity sites and what harshness you find! What nastiness! That actress is too fat, like a hippo! This actress is too thin, like a corpse! And look at those wrinkles? What a ghastly outfit? Why does she let her children go out without hats?

Not all comments are negative. A young woman getting pregnant gets gooey congratulations and a young couple getting married (enjoying, as they tell, absolute total and perfect bliss) get well-wishes. When the same couple later splits up the comments have a similar expert tinge: Commenters judge who was at fault, who suffered the most and what the correct ethical solution might be.

All this might be just the fluff people need in their daily lives: The discussion is about the private lives of celebrities, and because everybody has a private life, everybody is an expert with something useful to say.

In any case, what fun to bash the very rich and famous, to find that they may not be any better off than us Little People! How delicious when they mess up despite all those advantages they have! And how exciting to feel that one actually knows someone that famous!

It may not be the way I get my daily dose of fluffiness but whom does it hurt if people get some relief by bashing the sillier celebrities?

Perhaps it hurts those people themselves? Susan Douglas (in Enlightened Sexism) reminds us that the celebrities most ridiculed in the media are women, not men, and that the celebrity gossip, when applied to women, has a gender-policing aspect:

Women must want babies! Women must want marriage! Women must focus on relationships and their private lives rather than on their careers or talents! Women must be the right weight, properly groomed and properly dressed! Their breasts must be large and at ninety-degree angle to the body but they must never look artificial.

That many of those who follow these sites are women makes the situation worth feminist analysis. I'm not the blogger to do that, given my lack of expertise, but I'm going to have a crack at it.

Finding other women failing the rigorous standards for female beauty and for some types of female behavior can be reassuring to the female member of the public. It means that she is not the only one failing or the only one finding compliance so hard. That can be a relief.

But it has a price: It also serves to make our public eye slide past the impossible norms to begin with. The norms still exist. Only now nobody can achieve them but the celebrities still should because they have all that fame and all that money!

The critical commentary on celebrities' lives also serves as a safety valve against the envy or discomfort we might feel when thinking of what it is like to be so tremendously rich. At the same time, a focus on the celebrities' pregnancies (the bump watch!), marriages and bodies makes them seem your average Jane Public and redirects that shared eye away from the major difference between their lives and those of the commenters. Which is in fame and money.

As Douglas points out, all this trends towards conservative values. Female celebrities are criticized for how they perform gender, and the Wild Girl celebrities are given much more limelight than any Wild Boy celebrities (who do exist). Perhaps this is because women with money are a greater deviation from the traditional gender norms, something that clashes with the traditional setup?

These are some of the reasons why I believe this topic has feminist implications. Add to them the fact that stories about Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are so common. Indeed, they often provide the bulk of female-related coverage on various news and popular culture sites. Consider what the implications of that might be.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Enlightened Sexism. A Book Review

Susan J. Douglas has written a book about American pop culture and its negotiations or wars with feminism. The full title of the book is Enlightened Sexism. The Seductive Message That Feminism's Work Is Done.

But it really is mostly about pop culture and the paradoxical messages it offers about the role of women. Like "you can be anything you want as long as you have big tits."

That's my summary of the book. It has much more than that, including theories about enlightened sexism and embedded feminism and how they interact. Here's Douglas's definition of the two concepts:

One force is embedded feminism: the way in which women's achievements, or their desire for achievement, are simply part of the cultural landscape.


So the female characters created by Shonda Rhines for Grey's Anatomy, to choose just one example, reflect a genuine desire to show women as skilled professionals in jobs previously reserved for men. Joss Whedon created Buffy the Vampire Slayer because he embraced feminism and was tired of seeing all the girls in horror films as victims, instead of possible heroes. But women whose kung fu skills are more awesome than Jackie Chan's? Or who tell a male coworker (or boss) to his face that he's less evolved than a junior in high school? This is a level of command-and-control barely enjoyed by four-star generals, let alone the nation's actual female population.

But the media's fantasies of power are also the product of another force that has gained considerable momentum since the early and mid-1990s: enlightened sexism. Enlightened sexism is a response, deliberate or not, to the perceived threat of a new gender regime. It insists that women have made plenty of progress because of feminism -- indeed, full equality has allegedly been achieved -- so now it's okay, even amusing, to resurrect sexist stereotypes of girls and women.

I'm not sure that those stereotypes needed much resurrecting. They were fully alive all along, though perhaps sleeping in their crypts during the daylight hours.

But these are the major concepts Douglas applies in a tour through the popular culture of the last thirty years or so. It's a fascinating tour to take, and I recommend it quite strongly, even if I'm not quite certain how we are to make it all into one tight theory. That would require that the same audiences were watching all the different shows, wouldn't it?

Still, I learned a lot during that tour, not being a fan of television or movies, either (they are too slow for me). I even had several a-ha! experiences while reading the book.

One of those was a much better understanding of the third leg of the new anti-feminist armchair: popular culture. (The other two legs are fundamentalist religions and the evo-psycho branch dangling off real evolutionary psychology. And yes, there is a fourth leg, too, but that one I talk about elsewhere.) This is what I realized when reading Douglas:

The sexual liberation of women can be a great thing, a wonderful thing. But it also can be subverted and turned into the sexual liberation of the female body, almost absent its owner, or perhaps owned by others. It is that body which has become a signifier of sexuality for everyone, including heterosexual women, and the shape of that generalized sexy body is now more stringently controlled than ever before. Hence the need to shave the pubic area and the need to have large and perky breasts. The Female Body in that detached sense is now a mythical body, an impossible body, with fixed labia and enhanced breasts. At the same time many view it as an achievable body. A normative body type, if you like.

And you can have a career if you also have that Female Body. Or so I interpret Douglas' argument about the contradictory messages in popular culture. It's almost like a new version of what one Pope said about women in the public sector: Sure, women can have a role in the public sector as long as they carry out all the same old chores at home, though this version is more about the sexual position of the human female than her domestic obligations.

But of course nobody planned it like this. The creators of various television series and movies simply wanted to attract different viewer groups: Eye candy for some, career women for others. To save on hiring costs, make it an eye candy with a great career. And there you are!

I may be overstating Douglas's point here, because I include the widespread use of porn in popular culture and her book doesn't cover pornography at all. Since the shaving and the fixing of the labia and even the artificial breasts have their first home in porn it should have been covered. But then perhaps other people don't see it as part of the current popular culture?

My second a-ha! moment was about the treatment of teenage girls in pop culture and also in pseudo-psychological advise giving. We are worried about teenage girls. Either they are poor Ophelias, considering jumping into the lake and ending it all or they are Mean Girls destroying everyone else or they are Shameless Hussies who will never get a husband. None of that sounds like any of the actual teenage girls whom I know.

Popular culture does have the tendency to veer from one extreme to another, to leap from worrying about the evaporating teenage girls to worrying about the evil teenage girls and so on. Still, a more balanced view would be good for, you know, teenage girls. Even more generally!

My third a-ha! moment had to do with Douglas' discussion of Janet Reno and why she provoked a certain kind of hatred. I'm not talking about criticizing what she did as the Clinton administration Attorney General but about the way her looks were covered in the media:

The jokes were incessant. And Will Ferrel's ongoing drag impersonation "Janet Reno's Dance Party" on Saturday Night Live featured the nation's first female attorney general as a pathetic, love-starved nerd who threw herself at men and danced like a robot on angel dust. A giant; too butch; unloved; a freak.

The reason is that Reno refused to perform femininity. Indeed, she refused to perform gender at all. That, my friends, may be more threatening and frightening than Hillary Clinton as a nutcracker. Which is plenty frightening for many people.

One final point in the book is worth making: Women and people of color often have quite exalted roles on television and in the movies. Black women, for instance are much more likely to be judges on television than in meat-space.

I knew this, of course, but I assumed that it came from a desire to show diversity in the good jobs and perhaps to make the society more accustomed to diversity on top. But Douglas points out a possible negative consequence of this over-representation: Viewers may take the situation on the screen as reality! No further action needed, because Everyone Has Already Arrived.

Thank You

For all your generous donations. They mean a lot to me and also pay for the blogging-related expenses. You are simply the best readers a goddess can have.

Women Will Rule The World

This is like that "End of Men" piece in the Atlantic Monthly: A way to do a sensational take on increasing gender equality and to suggest that it's not a move towards equality but something which will make women the rulers of this world. The evidence somewhere uses the fact that women are the majority of those in higher education in most countries. That is then expanded to data which actually shows that women are not equal but improving their position to some extent, and the corollary you are supposed to draw is that women will soon rule the world and men will have horrible lives. Sorta traditionally female lives.

Hence titles like "Women Will Rule The World" or "The End Of Men." Newsweek article. A snippet from the former:

When historians write about the great recession of 2007–08, they may very well have a new name for it: the Mancession. It’s a term already being bandied about in the popular media as business writers chronicle the sad tales of the main victims of the recession: men. They were disproportionately represented in the industries hit hardest during the downturn, including financial services, manufacturing, and construction, and their higher salaries often put them first in the line of fire. Men are the victims of two thirds of the 11 million jobs lost since the recession began in 2007; in August 2009, when U.S. male unemployment stood at 11 percent (versus 8.3 for women), it was the largest unemployment gender gap in the postwar era. Those numbers have improved, a bit—new unemployment figures show men at 9.9 percent and women at 7.8—but not enough to stop Larry Summers, the president’s top economic adviser, from speculating recently, that “when the economy recovers, five years from now, one in six men who are 25 to 54 will not be working.”

If they are lucky, they’ll have wives who can take care of them. American women are already the breadwinners or co-breadwinners in two thirds of American households; in the European Union, women filled 75 percent of the 8 million new jobs created since 2000.

Do a reversal on that last paragraph and then note that nobody would be at all upset if you pointed out that if women are lucky they'll have husbands who can take care of them. Or do a reversal of the title with the needed change in the verb: Men Rule The World.

I'm suffering from battle fatigue on this particular topic, bad. But I read through the whole article and came out with these quick thoughts:

Somehow increasing gender equality in India or in China is a sign that women will soon rule the world!

Somehow women-owned firms being 30% of all firms is a sign that women will determine who will be employed in the future!

Somehow a large growth rate is presented as evidence for all this, even though a large growth rate is partly because of a smaller base: If I add 100 new firms to a base which has 1,000,000 I get a smaller percentage increase than if I add it to a base which has 500,000. Just to point out the obvious.

Somehow we focus on the 9.9% male unemployment rate and how those men can be taken care of by their wives (which is emasculating), but the 7.8% female unemployment rate is painless, I guess. Or not there at all, because women have taken all the new juicy jobs. And somehow we completely fail to point out that women of color have higher unemployment rates than white guys. That's because we are doing gender wars, of course, and not race wars here.

Somehow we don't mention that the traditionally male-dominated jobs which suffered so much in the 'mancession' are also the better paying jobs and that those industries are always ahead of business trends: Earlier losses and earlier gains of jobs when times go bad and then good again. (Note that I'm all for getting those guys back to work, but then I'm for getting everyone back to work.)

Yes, it could be that we are now witnessing a structural change and that those good jobs don't come back. But I don't see enough evidence on that. You can't outsource construction, not completely, and the stockbrokers we shall always have among us. U.S. manufacturing might be in trouble, due to outsourcing, and it has been in trouble for several decades due to that.

Somehow doing the grocery shopping and so on translates into real economic power, and so do the number of bank accounts one owns (though what the overall balances on those might be remains undiscussed). And yes, women do own roughly their population percentage of all personal wealth, but that is not because women earn roughly their population percentage of all personal wealth. It's because women live longer than men, on average, and end up inheriting more family wealth that way.

And finally, somehow all these articles fail to discuss what those fantastic new jobs are that women will dominate and why men don't line up for them. I doubt any country has laws forbidding them to apply for them.

I spent some time trying to find those magical jobs, because there are in fact several sites giving us such lists and the lists vary greatly. Many of them have software engineers on top, for example. But Table 2 here might be the list all those articles are quoting.

I don't see a single job in that list from which men are banned. Men, too, can become home health aides (annual income 20,460) or retail salespersons (annual income 20,510)! Or they can get one of the higher earning job in that list, such as a registered nurse (62,450) or (gasp!) even the job of a management analyst (73,570).

Indeed, none of those jobs are earmarked for women and several have earnings which look pretty meager for those women who will rule the world. But whatever, as they say.

What angers me about these stories is that they start with the shocking conclusion that women will, any day now, rule the world or that men are close to extermination or some such rather harmful bullshit, and then they choose to treat any strides women have made towards equality as a sign of that shocking conclusion being correct. One problem is the one I wrote about when discussing "The End of Men" (hi guys, you still around?) which is that articles using that tone are rapidly becoming the homeroom of misogynists. They also will do very little for actually improving the position of women in China or India, say, because they suggest that if you give them an inch they will take the whole hand.

So don't give them an inch.

And that is why this topic angers me so very much. It is a nasty counterargument for increasing gender equality, and it does its work by appealing to traditional gender roles, definitions of masculinity and any evidence that the situation of women is improving.

I'm almost thinking that if all this is because of more women than men in colleges, then for fuck's sake put up gender quotas! If this is because of men's higher unemployment rate, put quotas on that, too.

Girls Can't Pitch?

You have to say that with a rising, questioning intonation. This post is not about baseball (that manly sport where one mostly stands around (looking out of shape and grumpy) and then fails to hit or catch balls*) but about how to pitch story ideas to magazines or websites. From the Awl:

Inquiry letter from a man:

"Do you take pitches? Should I just write something and send it? Do I have to tickle the balls? I want to write for the awl, dammit."

Inquiry letter from a woman:

"As an long-time admirer of your site (and non-too-frequent registered commenter), I've been too shy to pitch as I've never felt like my work measured up to your fine standards."

Inquiry letter from a man:

"Can you offer a word of advice regarding how submissions work, desired timetables, what you like the pitches to look like, and so forth?"

Inquiry letter from a woman:

"I'm sure I'm going about this all wrong, but I couldn't find any sort of submission area on the site. What I'm wondering is, how does one go about becoming a contributor to The Awl?"

The story is called "a disturbing sampling."

But is it really based on a statistical sample? Like a random sample of all the admissions? That's an important question, because if it is (which I very much doubt) then all men sound like the guys in that quote and all women sound like the gals in that quote, and I don't believe that for one single moment.

What I'm willing to believe is that if you go through all the relevant e-mails you will find more of the hesitant and apologetic types from women and more of the in-your-face types from men. Indeed, the gender-coded acceptable speech is still more hesitant and more questioning for women. The problem is that such speech is not the way to get published or to get raises at work or to get your problems attended to in college or school.

But you can't just do a reversal, not at least in meat-space, and the reason is that the people you talk to react very differently to a woman who asks whose balls she'd have to tickle than to a man saying the same.

Just to pick a silly example.
This is added to create outrage, furor and clicks to my site.

An Odd Coincidence

I wrote about ignorance yesterday, even referring to David Brooks in that post but I hadn't actually read his most recent column. That it partly echoes what I said is fascinating.

Read Paul Krugman's response to Brooks, too.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Right Not To Learn

This is an important right in the United States of America. David Brooks, among other conservative columnists, often writes about the horrible liberal elitists in their ivory towers, the ones who are not your salt-of-the-earth type of people with the proper scorn towards book learning. The Palin sagas showed us that the Right To Remain Ignorant is something many would like to see as a constitutional amendment.

Sinclair Lewis notes this tendency in his 1930s anti-fascist novel It Can't Happen Here, so the tendency is not exactly a new one. But it IS a very American one.

And more complicated than it seems at first glance, because people just don't walk around, eyes closed and fingers in their ears, trying their utmost to stay as ignorant as possible. Rather, the assumption is that one already knows everything that is necessary to know, and that the solution one arrives at, based on that mysteriously acquired knowledge, is the correct one.

Hence Lewis' picture in the book about the contempt many Americans in the 1930s held for the job of a politician: Why, anyone could do it! The problems are obvious and the solutions even more so! If you just get rid of the current scum and install some new ignorant people you will do well!.

Where that initial (and sufficient) knowledge comes from is unclear. But personal experience rates very highly as an acceptable source. That such personal experience may not be typical and even might be highly colored by emotions of the less admirable kind isn't addressed in this way of thinking, perhaps because to gather other types of information would require the equivalent of that hated book learning.

This whole topic is an odd one. I can see myself writing on it, through the eyeballs of David Brooks, and what do I see? An elitist (?) goddess, someone who is not in the mainstream, someone who is not real and wholesome and in touch of the truthiness that is everywhere. How dare she write on this topic? Who does she think she is? Is she ridiculing the ignorant?

And that shows you the marvelous sleight-of-hand that has taken place! Knowledge has become not something that you have to work to acquire but something which is about emotions, about social rankings, about making yourself better than other people! Perversely, knowledge has become something which props hierarchies! And the solution to this dilemma is not to open up the gates of learning for all but to deny the value of learning altogether. Or, perhaps, to ridicule the ignorant ones because that props up another type of hierarchy?

Instead of discussing the very important questions about information, bias and the limits of learning of all types, what do we do, in the public political debates? I think people defend their own truthiness, not in the sense of digging up evidence or juxtaposing explanations but in an emotional sense: What the f**k makes you think that your knowledge is better than mine? We are all equal here!

It is oddly emotional. But we don't see it that way because politics is not labeled the emotional exercise it often is. It is also based on the idea that everything we are presented with should be easy-to-digest and delicious, and that's something the television has created. If you expect to acquire all the information you need by lying on the sofa with a nice cool (it's so hot here!) bottle of beer in your paw, you are going to be sorely disappointed.

Learning really is hard work. Sure, you can make it more interesting, you can teach better, you can personalize the message and provide an easier path to more knowledge. But ultimately learning is hard work, and that is one of the reasons why it is possible to sell learning as unnecessary.

That and how useful it is to have an easily led electorate.

Tuesday Blogkeeping Post

Thank you for your generous donations! I'm sending snake energy to all of you. It lets you slither away from any disaster waiting to happen and also provides you with venom fangs. And makes you kind! Certainly that. Hmmm.

It's still not too late to give should you happen to have an extra Mercedes Benz in one of your garages.

Anthony McCarthy is taking a little time off, including next weekend. But he will be back.

Learning Your History

A journal on Democratic Underground dug up the Republican Party Platform of 1956. You will not regret learning what heinous plans the Republicans had in those days. Examples of their goals:

Assure equal pay for equal work regardless of Sex.

Extend the protection of the Federal minimum wage laws to as many more workers as is possible and practicable;

Continue to fight for the elimination of discrimination in employment because of race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry or sex;

Provide assistance to improve the economic conditions of areas faced with persistent and substantial unemployment;

ohmygoddess! The Republicans used to be feminists! *faints*

Golf And Motherhood: The Frame

A New York Times article discusses the choices of professional female golfers to quit in order to have children. Or perhaps in order not to just have children but also take care of them full time? The story is both on something biological: the fact that the best golfing years and the time to have children largely overlap, but also on something societal: the definition of parenthood.

The beginning of the story is bound to make you feel glum:

Over the past two years, the L.P.G.A. Tour's two biggest stars retired to devote their energies to family. The departures of Annika Sorenstam at 38 and Lorena Ochoa at 28 rocked a tour that was reeling from lost sponsors and tournaments.

In this age of million-dollar purses and million-mile travel, can the L.P.G.A. keep its superstars long enough to increase the tour's following? The players' fitness trailer is a reminder of the tour's weakened state; its sides are adorned with larger-than-life images of Sorenstam and Ochoa.

Michael Whan, the L.P.G.A. commissioner, said women's professional golf was "a tough, aggressive, highly paid career path, and people struggle with what kind of competitor they want to be and what kind of mom they want to be."

He added, "We try to make it possible to be a mom and be competitive, but we can't make it where nobody leaves because, quite frankly, that's personal choice."

Perhaps. But nobody truly points out the larger frame. It's visible in a few of the quotes. Here is the "hook" couple of the story, Cristie Kerr and her husband Erik Stevens who are thinking of having a child:

At a May tournament in Mobile, Ala., Kerr exchanged a hurried greeting with Karen Stupples, who was rushing to retrieve her 3-year-old son from the tour's day care center 15 miles away. Kerr glanced at her husband, and the thought that passed between them, Stevens said, was, "No way can we do that!"

See it? What are the options here? She quits or she uses daycare. The third option is not mentioned.

Another revealing quote is this one:

When Nancy Lopez was dominating the tour in the early 1980s, such discussions began and ended with finding and affording child care.

"It's definitely different for women," she said. "Guys, they have a wife who takes care of the children. They can focus totally on golf."

See it? If child-care is acceptable why not that option we are not going to mention at all?

And the oddest quote of all is this one:

The travel, which was always hard on Ochoa, grew unbearable after her December marriage to Andrés Conesa, the chief executive of Aeroméxico, who had three children with his first wife. Ochoa returned home from season-opening events in Thailand and Singapore and told Conesa she would quit in May.

"Andrés asked me, 'Did I have something to do with this?' " Ochoa said. "I told him, 'Only because I'm with you and I'm happy.' I think my retirement was hardest on Andrés. He feels some blame, I guess, because people see that I got married and now I'm quitting."

What do Ochoa's husband's three children from his first marriage have to do with her quitting?

I often feel like a real grouch hammering on these same topics. Also as if I was hitting my head against the same brick wall. But someone has to do it, or so I feel. Because the frame that is used in these is an intricate one and consists of so many different bits that one swallows it all in one large gulp, oh so very easily.

Yet some bits don't really belong in that frame and others are presented differently when it is men who retire from some professional sport. They don't retire because of a role conflict. They retire to enjoy life in other ways (exactly what Ochoa seems to have done, by the way). Neither is their retirement seen as some sort of a general challenge to the system or generalized to all men.

But these mildly worrying stories about women are written that way: Moms juggling career and kids! Watch them falter! Watch the whole league falter! Better not venture into these areas at all.

And do you know what is really the weirdest bit of the frame? These women are competing against other women, not against men. So they all share the same limitations if they plan to have children. Somehow I would have thought that the league could take that into account.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Fund Drive: Two More Days

Today and tomorrow. Aren't you glad to hear that it is going to be over? I always felt like that when the public television did the fund drives, especially because I had already sent them money.

This is a very odd way of funding something: Asking people to pay whatever they'd like and still get the product. If cars were sold that way, car dealerships would soon go out of business.

My heartfelt thanks for those of you who have already contributed.
Picture of alert Sasha (on her way to sending some money) by Doug.

Thoughts Before A Book Review

I have just finished reading Susan J. Douglas's Enlightened Sexism which I will review here soon. The book is about the popular culture and its treatment of feminism, sexism and women and will give us a big and lovely meal for discussion.

But we can have snacks or tapas beforehand! One of the sections of the book notices in passing that women are assumed to be naturally empathic, in the rulebook of life, even if women are also assumed to be bitches who can't make friends with each other, who are queen bees and who have cat fights. Now that's a whole list of animals!

Paradoxes like that are natural in all sorts of cultural myths. But that empathy thing really hit home with me. I'm pretty sure that I wasn't a very empathic child, what with mostly living inside my head, building imaginary worlds (with one citizen: me).

I had to work on it. Because empathy is important. To assume that one gender comes with a prepackaged empathy makes that work look yet another invisible and unpaid female chore. It also suggests that men are naturally not empathic and so can't become even a smidgen more able to identify with what other people are going through. This is not true, in any case, given the people I have known in meatspace (yes, even goddesses have meatspaces).

Popular culture is like that, though. The myths are fast-food myths: You gulp down the hamburger and fries and don't realize that you have also taken in about 10,000 calories worth of evo-psycho propaganda. A moment on your lips, a lifetime on your hips! And that is indeed one of Douglas's theses.

The wider framework of these thoughts consists of the consequences when something (empathy, leadership, gossiping) is assumed to be natural or unnatural for one gender. It becomes --- natural? --- in the sense of being unquestioned and in the sense of our quick reptile-brain responses.

A nail that sticks up from the sea of nails? Is it a female nail? Then hammer it down because it might be a queen bee! Is it a male nail? Then it might be a leader we other nails wish to follow? A female nail may stick out only if she is also caring and empathic and maternal and has totally (like, totally) unselfish reasons for sticking up. Ask female politicians about this.

Fund Drive Time!

Time for the once-a-year sacrifice at my altar. To pay for all the evil that I read so you don't have to and yet get the gist of it plus the weapons to fight it! (Wonders if that will work and sends grateful thanks to all who have already contributed).

I cost less than a nice cappuccino per daily enjoyment! A lot less than a university course! And I'm less boring than the latter and more acid than the former, yet smooth as velvet on your tummy linings.

This Gallagher Guy

I never heard of him. But Salon has a story about Leo Anthony Gallagher Jr. He's supposed to be a stand-up comedian from the 1980s. His humor is of the demanding kind: Mashing watermelons and playing with food on stage.

Mostly, though, his humor seems to be gay-and-lesbian bashing or something that would make xenophobics or racists chuckle.

I did notice that he is not an admirer of women, either, though he really has a hatred like a bad fruit salad: Most everyone is included, except for white heterosexual men:

Gallagher is upset about a lot of things. Young people with their sagging pants (in faintly coded racist terms, he explains that this is why the jails are overcrowded—because "their" baggy pants make it too hard for "them" to run from the cops). Tattoos: "That ink goes through to your soul—if you read your Bible, your body is a sacred temple, YOU DIPSHIT." People naming their girl-children Sam and Toni instead of acceptable names like Evelyn and Betty: "Just give her some little lesbian tendencies!" Guantánamo Bay: "We weren't even allowed to torture all the way. We had to half-torture—that's nothin' compared to what Saddam and his two sons OOFAY and GOOFAY did." Lesbians: "There's two types—the ugly ones and the pretty ones." (Um, like all people?) Obama again: "If Obama was really black, he'd act like a black guy and get a white wife." Michael Vick: "Poor Michael Vick." Women's lib: "These women told you they wanna be equal—they DON'T." Trans people: "People like Cher's daughter—figure that out. She wants a penis, but she has a big belly. If you can't see your dick, you don't get one." The Rice Krispies elves: "All three of those guys are gay. Look at 'em!" The Mexicans: "Look around—see any Mexicans? Nope. They'll be here later for the cleanup." The French: "They ruin our language with their faggy words."

Above all, everything is gay, gay, gay to Gallagher. He leans into it with the borderline-­nonsensical, icked-out, ignorant glee of a boy—or the protest-too-much vigor of a GOP senator. Gallagher delivers your Bible verse for the day: "Without God, we are nothing but dust. What is butt dust? Is that what you get if your homosexual isn't properly lubricated?" He relates a story about spilling mouthwash onto his crotch during a show: "Lucky for me, there was no homosexuals in the area—'cause my balls was minty fresh." At other points during the show, Gallagher says, "Men and women can't live in the same house" and "There's no way men and women can have a relationship." He says he can't remember why he used to feel pleasure in looking at a woman. And, "There's only one kind of homosexual guy, and that's the pretty ones—why do homosexual men have to be so good-looking?" Gallagher. Listen. Is there something you want to share with us?

I don't think that last quip was funny. Why on earth would gay guys want someone this hateful among their ranks? Not that us women want him either, and here's why:

* Bill and Hillary confuse America. Who has the cajones in that family? Since they're both politicians, I think they've made a deal and they each have one.
* A President Hillary would confuse state dinners too. After a meal, couples like to walk and talk. Usually the men talk and the women talk. But Hillary would need to talk to the man with power. That leaves Bill to talk to the wife and that's not smart for anybody.
* Well-known ana-wreck-sick Nicole Richie had to stop trying to breast feed her new baby when the poor little thing's cheeks collapsed and mamma' was treated for a hickie on her tittie.


* How does a slut feel? Whore-a-ble.

What is funny depends on the listener. These jokes might be funny for someone primed with the appropriate types of hatreds. How liberating to have them publicly released! How funny!

Humor based on anger can be funny, of course. But it needs to be smart to be that, and even then the quick stabs show who does not get stabbed, what group does not get ridiculed or laughed at and who the intended audience is.

This guy's intended audience consists of mostly older white male wingnuts. To pretend anything else is pointless and confusing and not at all funny.

Defining Feminine Behavior

The tale of giving prenatal dexamethasone to pregnant women who might be carrying a female fetus with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia is long and complicated. From Time:

The early prenatal use of dexamethasone, or dex, has been shown to prevent some of the symptoms of CAH in girls, namely ambiguous genitalia. Because the condition causes overproduction of male hormones in the womb, girls who are affected tend to have genitals that look more male than female, though internal sex organs are normal. (In boys, in contrast, the condition leads to early signs of puberty, such as deep voice, body hair and enlarged penis by age 2 or 3.) But while the prenatal treatment may address girls' physical symptoms, it does not prevent the underlying, medical condition, which in some severe cases can be life-threatening, nor does it preclude the need for medication throughout life.

I recommend reading through the article from which I quote and several other opinion pieces because the ethical aspects of this case are many, complicated and serious, and I don't cover them in this post.

My focus is on something slightly different: The way this line of inquiry treats gender. Girls should be girly to be healthy:

"Gender-related behaviors, namely childhood play, peer association, career and leisure time preferences in adolescence and adulthood, maternalism, aggression, and sexual orientation become masculinized in 46,XX girls and women with 21OHD deficiency [CAH]. These abnormalities have been attributed to the effects of excessive prenatal androgen levels on the sexual differentiation of the brain and later on behavior." Nimkarn and New continue: "We anticipate that prenatal dexamethasone therapy will reduce the well-documented behavioral masculinization . . ."

Bolds are mine.

I understand that the discussion in that quote is not about general gender norms but about possible treatments for one particular (and serious) condition. Still, how does one define "behavioral masculinization" except by arguing that there is masculine behavior and then there is feminine behavior and only the latter is what girls should practice to be counted as healthy?

Not quite sure that I have something here? Check out this quote from a 1999 article by H. F. L. Meyer-Bahlburg on the same kind of gender essentialism, oddly combined with a general retro worldview:

If, for the various reasons outlined above, general sexual motivation and heterosexual courtship and partner activity are reduced or lacking altogether, child-bearing is less likely to happen as a consequence of intercourse. However, the new (noncoital) reproductive techniques that are increasingly being used by women in the U.S., including by those, such as lesbians, who are not heterosexually active, are in principle also available to women with classical CAH. Yet, a barrier to their use may be another psychological characteristic, namely low maternalism. CAH women as a group have a lower interest than controls in getting married and performing the traditional child-care/housewife role (14, 48, 49, 50).

I am not sure if the author of that quote defines "low maternalism" as low interest in getting married and in performing the traditional child-care/housewife role, but that's the most likely interpretation. That would mean that most of the second wave of feminism was a horrible plot by women who suffered from low maternalism, because they wanted to widen the possible roles for both women and men.
Hat tip to J V-U.