Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Fourth of July

Not so many fireworks this year.

That Conscience Clause Again

I have written quite a lot* about the health care worker's conscience clause in the past. Somehow I thought I wouldn't have to go on writing about it for ever, sigh:

President Barack Obama said today that he still favors a "robust" federal policy protecting health-care workers who have moral objections to performing some procedures even though he plans to roll back a Bush administration rule that expanded such protection.

Speaking to eight religion reporters at the White House before his first meeting with Pope Benedict XVI next Friday, Obama sought to reassure Catholic health-care workers that they would not be forced to perform abortions and other procedures that violate the Church's teachings. Obama said he is a "believer in conscience clauses" and supports a new policy that would "certainly not be weaker" than the rules in place before the expansion late in President George W. Bush's administration.

I'm not sure what "certainly not weaker" means in this context or what "robust" might mean, because this is is so far only talk. But let me just point out that the stronger the conscience clause permissions are the less options women have when seeking health care.

I didn't know that Obama was all for conscience clauses before the elections. Did you?
* Here are some of my blog posts on conscience clause(click on each word separately). (I have also written about it for the Huffington Post and the American Prospect magazine but their contents are covered here).

Heh. I Guess This Is One Way To Equal Treatment

New men's fashions...

More seriously, I don't want the fashion industry to start treating men as horribly as they treat women, in terms of looking ridiculous, being unable to walk in the outfits and so on.

Please Welcome

Liz O'Donnell. She has kindly accepted my plea for her to write for this blog. Liz's posts will appear every other Sunday, beginning tomorrow. She writes about:

F words: feminism, (life in her) forties and
sometimes family. Her work has been published in The Boston Globe Magazine, The Atlanta Journal Constitution and The Glass Hammer where she covers women and the workplace.

Thank you very much, Liz!

Friday, July 03, 2009

More liberal religion election news (by Suzie)

Sunday, I wrote about how my denomination, the Unitarian Universalists, elected its first Latino president. Our liberal cousins, the United Church of Christ, just elected its second black president. Both of these denominations are predominantly white and female. Neither has ever had a female president. What a fascinating coincidence.

As background: Obama went to a UU church as a child and a UCC church in Chicago. UUs are so liberal that they stopped being Christian. You'd be hard-pressed to find a Christian denomination more liberal than UCC. But, as I'm reminded time and again, progressive does not necessarily equal feminist.

ETA a little more analysis: Churches are an example of how discrimination works differently for different groups. People of different ethnicities often can find churches in which their group predominates, and they often can attend as a family. Women have less opportunity to attend a church that is all or almost-all female, if they want to go with male members of their family, or if they want to socialize with men. Maybe this is one reason churches take us for granted.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

Still life: Cat, conch, asparagus fern.

Independence (by Suzie)

I love this song by Celeste Krenz and Rebecca Folsom of the Rhythm Angels. I first heard it on “Women Voices: Folk Alliance 2008.” It’s also on the Angels’ CD, “Girls Like Us,” released by Celeste’s company, High Horse Records. DJ the DJ calls it the best song of 2009.

Jon Chandler describes it as a “you’re a cheatin’ bastard” song.” I didn’t read it that way; the woman in the song is living in fear. Barry Mazor, at No Depression, calls the song “an in-your-face blast concerning gun control.” But it's so much more. Although the woman in the song muses about killing her husband, she sounds like she’d be satisfied, at the end, to just drive away. I messaged Celeste Krenz, who was kind enough to explain:
We wrote the song late one night. I was going through a divorce at the time (it was not over a cheating husband) but any divorce can be difficult. Diana Jones, Liz Barnez, Rebecca Folsom and I were in my kitchen and just talking about the power struggle and being heard in relationships. We started talking about why people resort to using guns and I said, (I have a very soft voice) I am a fairly reasonable person but there have been a few times in my life that I'm glad I did not have a gun. We started writing the song and finished in about an hour.

You really could look at it both ways, gun control and gun protection. It's pretty pathetic that women can't get protection from the police until they've been seriously threatened ... and on the other hand, a perfectly balanced person with a gun in hand at the wrong moment could make a life changing decision out of blinding anger. Guns are so distant ... you don't even need to touch the person.

Oh, it was a good discussion that night about domestic abuse, the world of invisible people who think the gun is their voice (mass shootings) and everything in between. In the end, I think she just knows that the gun would allow her to walk away. It's a fantasy about being powerful enough to be free ...
Gerri Gribi has compiled lists of songs pertaining to domestic violence, as has Bethany Pombar.

Because tomorrow is the Fourth, I can’t help but mention Gretchen Peters' "Independence Day," a hit for Martina McBride. I love how this country song applies phrases from Christianity and patriotism to abused women. Here’s the chorus, plus a kicker:
Let Freedom ring, let the white dove sing.
Let the whole world know that today is a day of reckoning.
Let the weak be strong, let the right be wrong.
Roll the stone away, let the guilty pay, it's Independence Day.

Talk about your revolution.
It's Independence Day.
One issue for women who need to sell CDs or concert tickets is that songs like this can make men uncomfortable. At least, that was my take in April, at a house concert by Laurie McClain. She has a new song with the refrain "thank you for staying away" for the abusive husband who left her with two young children. Chandler, mentioned above, praises “If I Had a Gun” but jokes that it prompted him to move his stool a little farther away from the singers. I haven’t seen male singers worry about how the women in their audience will respond to songs in which men commit violence against women, even though it’s much more likely that the women in the audience will have experienced physical abuse than vice versa.

There are other songs titled “If I Had A Gun.” In Brooklyn Zu’s version, guns buy respect, maybe even manhood. The same seems to be true in a song by Federation. Dead Milkmen talk about a gun getting respect, but the song is also a good argument for gun control. Ditto for a song by Gene Simmons. Jeff Silver writes about suicide. Atomic Bitchwax wants what he wants. Otherwise, I don’t know. Diefenbaker: I have no idea. Ditto for an Oasis song that others are trying to decipher.

Bruce Cockburn took the if-I-had-a-weapon construction further with “If I Had A Rocket Launcher,” in which he fantasizes about taking down those who kill in the name of the state. I think it is easier for progressives to focus on the violence and repression of governments than to understand that violence and repression in the home is also a social injustice. Peace begins at home.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

How Now Howard?

Howard Kurtz writes about reporters on the Michelle Obama beat and their race and gender. It's an odd piece, sort of like an embroidery with several unfinished ends dangling from it, and I can't make up my mind which of those ends I should tug on to see what might come unraveled.

To take it in steps, the beginning of Kurtz's article suggests that the selection of journalists who get access to Michelle Obama is racist and sexist:

While Michelle Obama was meeting with doctors and patients at the Upper Cardozo Health Center, nearly two dozen journalists stood behind a white rope in a small room upstairs, most finally growing so tired during the hour-long wait that they sat on the floor.

Finally the first lady emerged, read a short speech about releasing federal stimulus money for community health clinics -- including $2.5 million for the Northwest Washington center -- and greeted a handpicked audience with handshakes and hugs. Then she turned and left, and the press pool quietly filed out.

Rachel Swarns of the New York Times and The Washington Post's Robin Givhan were among those herded behind the rope Monday. They and the other main beat reporters -- Newsweek's Allison Samuels, Darlene Superville of the Associated Press and Politico's Nia-Malika Henderson -- have something in common: They are all African American women.

Perhaps this gives them a richer cultural understanding of Obama as a trailblazer. Indeed, most write with enthusiasm, in some cases even admiration, about the first lady as a long-awaited role model for black women.

But then something else grabs hist attention and the article turns into examining whether African-American female journalists indeed might be better suited for covering the First Lady:

Whether racial and gender identification produces a gauzier, more favorable portrayal of Obama is perhaps too early to judge. After all, no one raises questions when an Irish American male reporter covers a pol named Murphy. And with her carefully crafted focus on her children, affordable fashion and such reduced-fat apple pie issues as healthy eating, Obama has done little to warrant sharp criticism.

Even within that short paragraph I quote the emphasis shifts again, because the last sentence pretty much says that this is probably OK because Michelle Obama isn't saying anything very interesting. Well, "interesting" for guys such as Howard Kurtz.

But note that gauziness! Ooh! Might there be bias in having African-American women cover one of their own? Not that there's anything wrong with that, naturally. After all, white men have covered one of their own for a few centuries and it's worked out very well for them.

As the article meanders on Kurtz muses on his fear that covering "one of your own" might make the journalists biased though of course special knowledge is a Good Thing, too. But what about that racial preference, again? Like this:

Such developments can foster a mixture of tokenism and opportunity. When Jesse Jackson made his first White House run in 1984, a number of black political reporters got their first crack at a presidential campaign. The assignment was a sideshow -- Jackson had no serious chance of winning -- but also boosted the careers of his chroniclers.

Tricky stuff, is it not? What makes reading this even trickier are a few additional dangling ends which are not part of Kurtz's main theses (whatever those might be) but which I can't help noticing all the time.

The first of these has to do with the fact that male journalists haven't exactly wrestled each other for the chance to cover the First Lady (pardon for the unintentional pun there), because that shit is for chicks. The news about presidents' wives are supposed to be about fashions and family values and the pursuit of some public cause so uncontroversial that there's no news in it. It's only when the First Lady says or does something scandalous that the beat becomes hot. And I can't help noticing that this is pretty much what Kurtz writes.

The second dangling end is not really about Kurtz at all but about what we view as in-depth coverage of women's issues. An example:

The day before the inauguration, Henderson wrote in Politico that "to fashionistas, she's Michelle O, the new Jackie. . . . Post-feminists see Michelle Obama as one of their own, the having-it-all Harvard-educated lawyer. . . . African American women say she'll upend age-old stereotypes of the angry black woman who can't find a good man, or keep him when she does."

We live in a post-feminist world where women can have it all but where African-American women suffer from the stereotype of being too angry to hang on to a man. Soundbite after soundbite and the invisible elephant just lounges on that living-room couch. Note how that whole quote is about a world of women? Not a man, child, corporation or society in sight. Women struggle with trying to have it all or with their bad reputations and all this happens somehow not in the actual society but only inside their own little heads.

My anger there has nothing to do with Michelle Obama. It isn't even about Howard Kurtz's meanderings with his foot in his mouth (How does he do that? Can he really have it all?) It's that odd way in which women's problems are a) trivialized into silly fashions or soundbites and b) removed from the societal contexts which would allow us to understand them.

Today's Funny Post

Comes courtesy of Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern and friends. They have written something called "Oklahoma Citizen's Proclamation for Morality" and invite people to sign it next month at the State Capitol. You ready for it?

Here it goes:

In her proclamation, Kern also blames people outside of Wall Street and Washington for the national recession.

The proclamation states: "Whereas, we believe our economic woes are consequences of our greater national moral crisis; and Whereas, this nation has become a world leader in promoting abortion, pornography, same sex marriage, sex trafficking, divorce, illegitimate births, child abuse ,and many other forms of debauchery."

Oh dear. Sinfulness and debauchery is also what caused the 9/11 massacres, at least in the opinion of a few rabid fringe religious wingnuts. Even the hurricane Katrina was caused by debauchery, one of them argued. It's not a good idea to make the god of the wingnuts angry, because he tends to strike rather indiscriminately.

Debauchery is such a delicious word. It's probably sinful to enjoy saying it, too, though I think people blaming all bad events of this world on debauchery spend too much time thinking about it...

Kern and friends are a little bit like those medieval folks who practiced self-flagellation to stop the angry god from raining down black death. Except that it's not their selves these Oklahomans appear to want to flagellate but someone else.

Get Thee To A Nunnery!

This sounds like fun:

The Vatican is quietly conducting two sweeping investigations of American nuns, a development that has startled and dismayed nuns who fear they are the targets of a doctrinal inquisition.

Nuns were the often-unsung workers who helped build the Roman Catholic Church in this country, planting schools and hospitals and keeping parishes humming. But for the last three decades, their numbers have been declining — to 60,000 today from 180,000 in 1965.

While some nuns say they are grateful that the Vatican is finally paying attention to their dwindling communities, many fear that the real motivation is to reel in American nuns who have reinterpreted their calling for the modern world.

You have to read the whole article to realize that American nuns are treated here as if they had done something really bad. Something like continuous child molestation. Interesting, isn't it? Pope Ratzo and his boyz are gonna get those damned women under control, I think. For instance:

The second investigation of nuns is a doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella organization that claims 1,500 members from about 95 percent of women's religious orders. This investigation was ordered by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is headed by an American, Cardinal William Levada.

Cardinal Levada sent a letter to the Leadership Conference saying an investigation was warranted because it appeared that the organization had done little since it was warned eight years ago that it had failed to "promote" the church's teachings on three issues: the male-only priesthood, homosexuality and the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the means to salvation.


Mr. Briggs said of the various investigations: "For some in the leadership circles in Rome and elsewhere, it's a piece of unfinished business. It's an effort to bring about a re-establishment of a very traditional, very conservative set of standards for what convent life is supposed to be."

Emphasis mine. Maintaining gender hierarchies is hard work. Hard work.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Tell Burger King to shove it (by Suzie)

Please see Pam Spaulding's smackdown of a Burger King ad that ran in Singapore, with a "seven incher" headed to the open-mouth of a pornified woman. The link includes where to write to complain.

I've seen this phenomenon in other countries, where U.S. companies feel free to run much more sexist ads than they would here. I also find it interesting that the woman is white and blond since this ad was produced for the local market. Although Singapore is a multiracial society, people of European descent are much less common. It may be more acceptable to have a Western-looking woman in the ad because of the stereotype that we're less moral. Of course, whites have a litany of Othered women who they consider less moral. Each society seems to have its own ideas about outsider men who are sexy (or scary) studs and outsider women who are just asking for it. Here's an unscientific sampling from Yahoo.

California Dreaming...

Harold Meyerson has written a good piece on the basic reasons for California's current troubles:

The list of states -- Democratic and Republican, old economy and new -- is sufficiently diverse to dispel any notion that the fiscal crisis of the states is disproportionately the problem of one party or one region. It is, rather, hard-wired into the American system of governance, wherein virtually all the states have required themselves to produce balanced budgets even during depressions -- which means they must slash services and lay off workers even though such actions actually deepen the downturn.

But California is a special case simply because it's so big. Closing California's budget gap entirely through cutbacks in programs, as Schwarzenegger and the Republicans in the legislature propose, will deepen not only the state's recession but also the nation's. Fully 1 in 4 of the nation's underwater mortgages, for instance, are on California homes, and the effects of the governor's proposed cuts -- which UCLA's Anderson School of Business estimates will cause 60,000 state employees to lose their jobs -- will be to create a new wave of foreclosures and toxic assets on the banks' books. California accounts for 12 percent of the nation's gross domestic product and a disproportionate share of the federal government's revenues (and for every dollar that Californians pay to the feds, they get just 80 cents back in services).

Right-wing ideologues see the crisis as an opportunity to shrink government regardless of the consequences. Schwarzenegger is proposing to end welfare, not just as we know it but altogether, and to throw 1 million children off the rolls of the state's healthy families program. But the consequences of closing the deficit simply through cutbacks will be felt by more than the poor. Already reeling from $15 billion in cutbacks that the state put through in February, many school districts, including that of Los Angeles, have canceled summer school this year. Scholarships that enable students of modest means to attend California's fabled university system have been slashed. Most of the state's parks may have to be closed as well.

"Right-wing ideologues see the crisis as an opportunity to shrink government regardless of the consequences." Does that remind you of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine? And to think that once California had the best public school system in the country!

Oh Noes! We Can't Afford A Public Option

So sayeth Senator Lieberman of Connecticut. The public option in health care is too expensive because the public would have to pay for it! Or it's not expensive enough so that it will pay the providers Medicaid-level low fees!

Which is it, Joe? You should make up your mind. And perhaps you should ask yourself who it is now who pays for the care the uninsured and under-insured get. Make a guess.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Take A Deep Breath, Echidne

The occupational hazard of writing a blog of this type is not paper cuts but undigested anger not only at the material I read but also at the generally phlegmatic mainstream responses. Women's shit? Duh. Whatevah.

I should follow Sammi's example in the above picture (by FeraLiberal) and just relax. Never mind that the ground is full of puddles and sharp rocks, there must be one soft and comfy spot big enough for me, too. It might be on another planet, though.

I need a vacation (but I'm not having one until August).

On Subtexts

I have tried to avoid hearing and seeing and reading so much about Michael Jackson but it's pretty much impossible if one is expected to follow politics. So I have learned more about MJ than I ever wanted to know, and one of those things I learned is that he is treated as an individual. Sometimes an aberrant individual, true, but not as a representative of either his racial or his gender group.

That could be progress. But is the same true of famous women with odd private lives? I don't think so. Lots of people take out their anger at women by focusing on Paris Hilton or Sarah Palin or Britney Spears. I really think so, based on what I see on the Internet. But feel free to persuade me otherwise.

It's the Wimmen's Fault. As Usual.

Another health article tells us that mothers are responsible for their children's future health, from uterus onwards. Not only that, but ALL women are responsible for ALL future children's health. Yup:

Communities also can help, Gluckman says. By helping women such as Williams get good prenatal care and nutrition, for example, communities can reduce the number of fetuses who are malnourished and born small, Gluckman says. Babies who are born at normal weight are more likely to maintain that healthy weight.

Because half of pregnancies are unplanned, women need to learn about nutrition — and maintain healthy diets — long before they conceive, Gluckman says.

"We have got to give far greater focus to mothers, the women who are likely to become mothers and to the care of newborn children than we have in the past," Gluckman says.

Emphasis mine.

There's a logical fallacy in that argument about unplanned pregnancies. IF half of pregnancies are unplanned, this does NOT mean that all women have the same 0.5 probability of having an unplanned pregnancy. It does NOT mean that we should therefore treat each woman as if she might be that likely to become pregnant without planning. It's like assuming that if 20% of people don't wear seatbelts, say, then we are going to just go with the assumption that EVERY PERSON ALWAYS leaves the belt off on one drive out of five.

Do you see what is wrong with that? The frequency of this argument, when applied to women, tells me what the powers-that-be think about women in general. We are baby aquaria and we must keep our water clean because a fish just might slip in. And bad aquaria kill fish.

I'm not sure why I have to add that of course learning about good diet is important for women. It is important for men, too. Whether the quality of sperm varies with the man's diet is probably not something that people bother to study, much. Procreation is just assumed to be what women are for. That's what I'm fighting against here. Women. Are. People, Too. Sigh. And now I'm gonna get comments telling me how I don't care about the Unborn, probably. As if caring about women's humanity rules that out.

In general, the article is full of speculation and some odd logical arguments. Take this one:

A pregnant woman's diet tells a fetus a lot about its future environment, including how much food will be available after birth, Jones says.

A baby conceived during a famine, for example, might learn to be "thrifty," hoarding every calorie and packing on fat rather than muscle, even at the expense of developing vital organs, such as the kidneys, liver and brain. Because of a lack of calories, the baby also may be born small.

In a famine, those early adjustments and predictions about the future could mean the difference between survival and starvation, Jones says.

But babies may run into trouble if the world doesn't match their predictions, Jones says.

A baby who has learned to hoard calories, for example, may grow up to be fat or diabetic once he or she finally gets enough to eat, Jones says. Doctors believe this occurs not just with babies whose mothers are starving, but with those who are malnourished because of a mother's medical problems, poor nutrition or exposure to tobacco smoke, which damages the placenta.

It's well known, Taylor says, that women who smoke are more likely to have low-birth-weight babies, who are in some ways "starved" for nutrients in the womb. Babies born too small are at risk for many immediate problems, such as underdeveloped lungs and bleeding in the brain.

If they survive, these youngsters also face long-term risks.

Studies show that small babies who gain weight rapidly in infancy or childhood — a sign that bodies are already making the most of every calorie — also have higher rates of adult heart disease and diabetes, Jones says.

Specialized X-rays have shown babies of young mothers with poor diets in India, for example, are born with extra belly fat, even though they seem to be a normal weight. Once these babies start getting an adequate diet, they are likely to put on weight, Gluckman says.

That Indian bit is interesting for the following reason: A baby who can survive famine and inadequate diet may, in fact, be well suited for the environmental conditions of much of that country where poverty still exists among the majority of the population. A baby who 'expects' food to be plentiful might be more likely to die in early childhood. I'm not certain why Gluckman (the expert with the silliest comments in this article) thinks that he can do better than nature in this context.


Do you ever get so angry at something that your fingers shake too much for you to type? Wonder why that thought occurred to me while reading about new research concerning possible discrimination against female playwrights? Well, aren't you lucky, because you are going to find out.

The research I mentioned consists of three different empirical studies, carried out by Emily Glasberg Sands (an undergraduate student at Princeton University), each of them testing various economic theories of discrimination or its lack against actual data on playwrights. The studies are pretty neat, the empirical analysis careful and the revealed knowledge of the theoretical field fine. Ms. Sands' overall findings deserve a careful post, and I might write one when I'm not quite so angry. But for this post I'm only going to discuss one of the three studies, the second one, the one which every anti-feminist is writing about. Well, sort of writing about, because I see no evidence that the writers actually read the studies, even though the file is so very conveniently linked to this New York Times article on them.

Let's begin with that NYT article, because it is such a very juicy example of what roused my anger. First, here's a summary of the oh-so-scandalous second study:

For the second study, Ms. Sands sent identical scripts to artistic directors and literary managers around the country. The only difference was that half named a man as the writer (for example, Michael Walker), while half named a woman (i.e., Mary Walker). It turned out that Mary's scripts received significantly worse ratings in terms of quality, economic prospects and audience response than Michael's. The biggest surprise? "These results are driven exclusively by the responses of female artistic directors and literary managers," Ms. Sands said.

Amid the gasps from the audience, an incredulous voice called out, "Say that again?"

Ms. Sands put it another way: "Men rate men and women playwrights exactly the same."

Ms. Sands was reluctant to explain the responses in terms of discrimination, suggesting instead that artistic directors who are women perhaps possess a greater awareness of the barriers female playwrights face.

Get it? Me neither, actually. There's a disconnect in that quote and I would have thought that anyone writing about this would have either asked Ms. Sands more clarifying questions or actually read the study.

To summarize that quote: The same plays, all written by real women, were given false female or male names and sent out randomly for evaluation. Because the actual scripts were the same, except for the female or male name attached to them, any consistent differences in the way they were evaluated would be a reaction to the playwright's gender and nothing else.

Given this, the fact that female respondents ranked the quality of the plays with female author names lower is indeed very thought-provoking. But why doesn't Ms. Sands seem to get provoked here? Why does she give superficially paradoxical answers?

The author of the NYT piece isn't excited about that at all! Nope. Instead, she begins her piece like this:

When more than 160 playwrights and producers, most of them female, filed into a Midtown Manhattan theater Monday night, they expected to hear some concrete evidence that women who are authors have a tougher time getting their work staged than men.

And they did. But they also heard that women who are artistic directors and literary managers are the ones to blame.

Get it? It's women who are discriminating against women here.

Other writers caught the same fever. Here's Bloomberg's version:

Female playwrights, long aware that they're produced less frequently than their male counterparts, may now have someone to blame: female artistic directors.

Even the knuckledraggers who seem to breed in the comments threads of Salon joined in:

Are you referring to mynameisdan? If so, go reread his post, because he's exactly right. The evidence from this study showed that women, not men, were discriminating against women, which is the opposite of what the researcher expected to find, so she "charitably" theorized--apparently on the basis of no evidence at all--that this must be caused by male discrimination somewhere else. Why? What possible reason is there for this theory other than that the researcher has a bias that only men, and never women, can be responsible for sexism?

Hate men much, GeorgiaProg?

I need to go and bang my head against the garage door for a few centuries now.

OK. That helped a bit. Let's see what the second study actually says about all this.

First, Sands created a long list of questions for the respondents. These were intended to capture the respondents' views about the quality of the play, the likely reception it would get from the audience and from the actors and the number of prizes it might take. The questions about the likely reception of a play intend to measure customer discrimination (by the audience, in this case) and co-worker discrimination (by the actors). They are not measures of what the respondent himself or herself thinks about the play. THEY ARE NOT MEASURES OF WHAT THE RESPONDENT HIMSELF OR HERSELF THINKS ABOUT THE PLAY.

What they measure instead is the respondent's beliefs about the sexism of the customers or the theater workers. That female respondents would have more negative views on these matters DOES NOT MEAN THAT THEY THEMSELVES WOULD DISCRIMINATE AGAINST FEMALE PLAYWRIGHTS. All it means is that they believe the audience and the workers in the theater are less accepting of female playwrights than of male playwrights. Male respondents don't believe this, but then they don't have the same life experiences as the female respondents.

Second, only three of the questions in the study were explicitly about how good the respondent thought the script was. The first of these asked the respondent to rate the play along its exceptionality, the second asked the respondent to rate the play based on how likable the characters in it are and the third asked the respondent to assess how likely it is that the play would receive a prize. Note that even here the third question would be affected by what one thinks about the theater world in general. If the respondent believes that women are discriminated in the awarding of such prizes it would be perfectly possible to rate a study both exceptional and its chances of winning a prize as poor.

Here's the bit from the original study on how female and male respondents rated the quality of the play (p. 77):

On aggregate, male respondents assign nearly identical ratings to a script irrespective of the gender of the pen-name. Female respondents, however, assign markedly lower ratings to a script when that script bears a female pen-name. The lower ratings assigned by female respondents to purportedly female-written scripts may be attributable to heightened awareness among female respondents of the barriers faced by female playwrights.

Female respondents believe a script written by women will be perceived by the theater community to be of lower overall quality... However, female respondents do not report personally believing that a script with a female pen-name is of lower quality. Specifically, female respondents assign lower ratings for Likable and Prize when a script has a female pen-name; these questions ask generally if the characters are likable and how likely it is that the playwright will win a prize. In the more personal rating measuring the extent to which the respondent herself deems the play to be an example of artistic exceptionalism, in contrast, female respondents assign a given script the same rating irrespective of the playwright's gender.

All bolding above by me.

Are you ready to join me in the head banging yet? If not, let me give you a similar example: Suppose you come and interview me about authors, say, and ask me to tell which ones I think are really good and what their future prospects might be. And I give you some female and some male names of writers I like and regard as equally good and then tell you that the female ones have not as great prospects as the male ones. Then you go out and write that THIS PROVES I'M THE REASON FOR THEIR NOT-SO-GREAT PROSPECTS! That's pretty much how this whole thing works: To notice discrimination is to be guilty of it.*
*Sands' third study in the package provides some evidence on the continuing discrimination against women's plays in the marketplace.

Monday, June 29, 2009

There Were Cavewomen????

Who would have thought? Not researchers, it seems:

For about as long as humans have created works of art, they've also left behind handprints. People began stenciling, painting, or chipping imprints of their hands onto rock walls at least 30,000 years ago.

Until recently, most scientists assumed these prehistoric handprints were male. But "even a superficial examination of published photos suggested to me that there were lots of female hands there," Pennsylvania State University archaeologist Dean Snow said of European cave art.

I'm not sure if it's possible to prove which hands belonged to men and which belonged to women, because anything one might use (size of hands, length of fingers, finger length ratios) will allow considerable overlap between the genders. Still, I'm astonished with the assertion that most scientists simply assumed those handprints were male. How could they assume that?

The problem with studying something that ancient is that many of the working assumptions will by necessity come from something else than the actual physical evidence. Our current values, for instance, and the odd way women become invisible to some people if we are not talking about reproduction.

Somehow all this reminds me of those old cartoons about the caveman coming home to the cave after a long day of hunting for mammoths and there sits the cavewoman, cooking the dinner (of mammoth, of course). That whole scenario was based on the social myths of the era of those cartoons, not of the era of the "cavemen".
Link courtesy of Lynne.

Proud To Wear His Name

This was how getting married was described in a recent radio program I listened to: The woman shows that she is proud to wear the man's name! He's worthy!

The comment was made by a man, but it sure has been the case in the past that becoming Mrs. John Smith was the culturally condoned dream of many little girls. Well, not to get married to the same John Smith, but to lose themselves in LOVE! To become invisible, except for the mention of who it is that they are wives to.

Writing about the topic of whether a woman should take her husband's last name or not is one of those feminist topics I have avoided, mostly because the discussion always divides into two streams:

Those who insist that anything less than keeping your own name is Letting Down Feminism and then those who explain, in great detail, why taking the husband's name is AOK, because their initial last name belonged to their fathers in the first place, so it's all patriarchy anyway. Then come all those practical problems of having more than one last name in the family and societal pressure on women to change their names and how it's important for HIS family that SHE changes her name and on and on and on. Add to that the problems of changing your name, of disappearing from the annals of history and on and on and on.

So if you want to start a feminist fight you can do it with this topic, because it pushes a lot of buttons about who is a good feminist and who is not and which topic is worth looking at and which is not. It's not an important topic, compared to many others that I could write about, but it does offer an interesting glimpse to the ahistorical nature of so much of feminism, ahistorical in an odd way.

To see what I mean, think of the arguments from those who are opposed to any change from the old usage of calling a married woman Mrs. Husband's First Name Husband's Family Name. Those are always about The Family, The Marriage and The Proper Role Of Wives (Not To Be Uppity Women).

The intention is to lump the last name choice together with all sorts of values and beliefs that in fact have little to do with the initial practice of 'disappearing' the woman in marriage. I argue this, because all those other values were quite well and alive before last names became that common, and they certainly have been well and alive in societies where the women didn't take their husband's last name at marriage. The historical meaning of this custom is something different. Or so I believe.

Another example of the ahistorical nature of this debate comes from within the feminist arguments over this topic, where the question is often seen as judging the independence of the woman's choice against some wider background of societally enforced rigid feminism or its opposite. This is an attempt to seek balance in the discussion, in ways which don't flow directly from the basic topic under debate. For example, one might argue that the whole family should take the man's last name, because women always know who their children are but the men need something external to tell the world that same fact. Or one might argue that feminism should let women choose without interfering in that choice or judging it, whether the choice goes one way or the other.

All this is ahistoric in an unusual way. At least I can't think of many other arguments where something so clearly linked to traditions is removed from them for the purposes of debates.

And what are those traditions? It seems to me that they are based on patrilocal marriage, the assumption that when a woman marries she leaves her birth family and moves in with her husband's family. In some ways she stops being a member of the former family and becomes a member of the latter family. Indeed, the traditional assumption that only men can continue the family line tells us how common this tradition has been. Add to that the introduction of last names for families of individuals, and you can see the logic behind all those Mrs. John Smiths.

Most women in the U.S. don't literally move in with their in-laws at marriage anymore. But the taking of the husband's last name is a metaphor for that. She now belongs not to the Joneses she was born among but to the Smiths she has married into. Thinking about the topic in this way suggests a different way of understanding why men are often (or so I have read) hesitant to drop their own family names at marriage. They are being asked to change families! Not just their last names but their family affiliations!

But this is exactly what women have been asked to do. Perhaps those women who defend their name change by stating how very much they dislike their birth families have a point?

Am I making any sense here? It's not that people are unaware of this history on a formal level but that the debate itself forgets about it and turns into a debate about feminism today and who it is who really forces women to take one name or another. I'm hunting the invisible elephants on the living-room sofas in many of these discussions, the ones which let us talk about France's burqa ban by completely ignoring Muslim men, for example, and their religious and family powers. Usually I don't see the invisible elephants on the first reading of some topic in which they hide, because we all have the same blind spots. I think we should point them out, even if they ultimately don't matter in the conversation.

On Colic And Parental Depression

Did you know that depressed parents are more likely to have babies with colic? Even fathers who are depressed? I'm pleased that a study finally looks at some other adult than the baby's mother. But this particular study has insurmountable problems, despite the fact that they managed to rule out causality from a crying baby to a depressed parent:

A new study of roughly 7,600 babies and their parents examined the link between parents' depression and babies' colic.
Percentage of babies with colic
• Among non-depressed fathers: 2.2%
• Among fathers with depression: 4.1%
• Among non-depressed mothers: 2.2%
• Among mothers with depression: 4.8%

Here's the insurmountable problem: The parents were asked to recall how often the baby cried. The researchers now think that a diary method would have been more reliable than just trusting on memory, but that wouldn't solve the real difficulty: Depressed people see and interpret the world and all events in a darker and more negative light than people who are not depressed. That's partly how depression is diagnosed.

The diary method wouldn't have helped with this, because it's likely that a baby crying a certain amount would elicit a different diary response from a depressed parent than from one who is not clinically depressed. The only way of getting around this problem would have been medical diagnostic methods for defining a colicky baby, not self-reporting by the parents.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

UUs go ‘beyond gender’ (by Suzie)

I’m experiencing post-traumatic stress over the election of the Rev. Peter Morales as the eighth president of the Unitarian Universalist Association. He will be our first Hispanic president, following the Rev. William Sinkford, our first black president. Morales defeated the Rev. Laurel Hallman, who would have been our first female president.

Like many churches, the majority of our members are women. Unlike many, the majority of our ministers are women, too. But even when female candidates have more experience, we elect men to the top job because we find them so inspiring.

This isn't the first time a woman has been defeated for the UUA presidency. But UU women were good little girls and didn't "whine" about it too much.

In an earlier forum, Margot Adler asked the candidates about patriarchy. Hallman talked about “the centrality of male images” in the church, women who have been wounded by patriarchy, and a holistic approach to theology that went beyond the intellectual.

Morales responded that he wanted to go “beyond gender” and look at privilege and class. He said:
… the situation of women who are Black and Latina is very different from the position of women from the dominant culture. … if we focus only on gender, we will miss powerful dynamics of inequality that need to be addressed.
This is the meme that white women (like Hallman) are not really oppressed. Why? Because gender is insufficient reason to be oppressed. Gender must be coupled with other oppressions, such as race or class or disability or sexuality, etc.

Much earlier in the campaign, the candidates had been asked about “anti-racism and anti-oppression.” Morales didn’t say that he wanted to move beyond race and talk about class and privilege.

Morales' father was second-generation Spanish-American, his mother was Mexican-American, and I don’t know when/if* her family immigrated. When he was 4, he said, his parents bought a home in an English-speaking neighborhood so that their children would not speak with a heavy Spanish accent. He won a scholarship to college and ended up getting three master’s degrees.

He has many more privileges than Latinos with less education and less income whose family came to the United States more recently. He has more privileges than a Latina. I’m not faulting him for being a well-educated middle-class man who speaks flawless English, whose skin is lighter than my father’s, and who married a guera. But if we need to talk about class and privilege when it comes to gender, shouldn’t we do the same when it comes to race?

While we’re talking about class and privilege, maybe the UUA can reform its voting rules. Some people who voted on the presidency at the General Assembly followed the wishes of their congregation. Churches like mine, which don’t pay travel expenses for people going to GA, may have no say in how their "delegates" vote. Obviously, this skews in favor of people who have the time, money and inclination to go.

Sinkford has said that electing a person of color is not a shortcut for attracting more members of color. (For links, please see my previous post on the election.) Nevertheless, some UUs wanted Morales because the Latino population is growing in the U.S., and they want more Hispanics to become UUs. We don’t need a female president, however, because women will show up anyway.

At GA, Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell gave the prestigious Ware Lecture, discussing “a litany of the bleak realities in the United States today — the rights not yet held by black, brown, immigrant, gay, and poor Americans.” In the coverage of the speech, I don’t see any mention of gender.

I blogged about Harris-Lacewell before, when she suggested that Hillary Clinton was acting like Scarlett O’Hara, wanting black women to serve her like a Mammy.

I feel like the Chalice Chick who “hasn't forgotten what it was like to be a Hillary supporter early last year when Hillary was 'just more of the same' while Obama was made of kittens and fairy dust and was going to change politics forever and ever.” In the next post, she talks about how some supporters of Morales called him the “Prophet of the Possible.” Sound familiar?

I’m sure I’ll calm down eventually. But right now, I’d say that the UUA can go to hell – except I don’t believe in hell.
*Some Mexican-Americans in San Antonio, where he was born, trace their ancestry to the time when Texas was part of Mexico.

Sunday Puppy

Just because I like to titillate you slowly. Picture courtesy of Doug (and Sasha, the puppy Herself).

And Even More On Iran

This is a difficult topic to write about. It is about a government which represses its people, about an election which most likely had severe problems and it is about violence. At the same time, it is clearly also about women, women who take to the streets with men, who demonstrate, who put their lives at risk, knowing that they do that, who are telling us how very tired they are of not having the rights men have.

But the Iranian government has banned foreign journalists from witnessing the events. Some have reportedly been jailed. Information from Iran is difficult to acquire when it comes to the larger picture, and verification of any information that comes through is almost impossible. Rumors remain rumors without such verification.

At the same time, it seems very wrong for me not to write about the events. Here are the most recent bits of news:

Iran's government said Sunday that it had arrested Iranian employees of the British Embassy, while the police in Tehran beat and fired tear gas at several thousand protesters who joined a demonstration at a mosque in support of defeated presidential candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi.

The government's arrest of nine Iranian employees of the British Embassy marked a significant escalation in its conflict with Britain, which Tehran has sought to cast as an instigator of the unrest since the disputed June 12 election. It said the embassy employees played a significant role in organizing the protests, which have reached across the country and across social and economic lines.

Tehran also continued to charge journalists with working as agents of discord, publishing one editor's "confession" while continuing to keep others behind bars without charge or barred from working.


In spite of all the threats, the overwhelming show of force and the nighttime raids on private homes, protesters still flowed into the streets by the thousands on Sunday to demonstrate in support of Mr. Moussavi.

Mr. Moussavi, who has had little room to act but has refused to fold under government pressure, had earlier received a permit to hold a ceremony at the Ghoba mosque to honor Mohammad Beheshti, one of the founders of the 1979 revolution who died in a bombing on June 28, 1981, that killed dozens of officials. Mr. Moussavi used the anniversary as a pretense to call a demonstration, and by midday the streets outside the elaborately tiled mosque were filled with protesters, their arms jabbing the air, their fingers making a V symbol, for victory.

The demonstrators wore black, to mourn the 17 protesters killed by government-aligned forces, and chanted "Allah Akbar," or God is great.

"There was a sea of people and the crowed stretched a long way onto the main street on Shariati," said one witness, who remained anonymous because he feared retribution.

What started as a peaceful demonstration turned into a scene of violence and chaos by late Sunday, witnesses said.

Some described scenes of brutality, telling The Associated Press that some protesters suffered broken bones and alleging that police beat an elderly woman, prompting a screaming match with young demonstrators who then fought back. The reports could not be independently verified because of tight restrictions imposed on journalists in Iran.

What is very clear, however, that this is very much a cause women participate in. Ahmdinejad was never interested in women's rights or lives, except perhaps for further curtailing both of those.

Any information on reliable news sources would be much appreciated.