Saturday, April 28, 2012

Discrimination Against Women in Individual Health Insurance Policies. A Boring Post.

Sean Hannity interviewed the health care expert (joking) Michelle Malkin on the question whether health insurance discriminates against women or not:
This week, Fox News host Sean Hannity scoffed at the idea that women face discriminatory practices from the health insurance industry, arguing that it is "disinformation" to claim that repeal of the health care reform law, which bans such practices, will again subject women to unfair and discriminatory treatment by insurers. In fact, the law bans insurance companies from its current practice of charging women higher premiums for the same coverage as men, and forbids insurers from listing pregnancy as a pre-existing condition, which was often used by some providers as an excuse to deny coverage.

The video ends before Malkin gives us any pertinent data on that "distortion."

It isn't a distortion, though the overall situation is slightly more complicated.  Women who are covered through employer-based group policies do not have to pay higher premia just because they are women.  This is because those health insurance policies fall under employment law, and charging women higher premia would mean that they get a smaller total compensation for their work than an otherwise identically placed but male employee.

Things can be different when it comes to individual health insurance policies, those which a person contracts separately with an insurer.  Some states do not allow the companies to charge women more, just on the basis of gender, but some states allow it.  And the practice does exist, wherever it is allowed.

What motivates it?  The reasoning is based on the fact that the average woman consumes more health care than the average man.  Most of this difference has to do with fertility differences.  In some ways the health care consumption which really should be attributed to babies being born is attributed to women, for example, but much of women's greater use has to do with routine gyno checkups, pap smear and breast screenings and so on.  So far we don't expect men to get routine prostate checkups every year from early ages onward.

Whether women would still consume more than men, on average, if the obstetric/gynecological visits were excluded is unclear to me.  Perhaps, given that many experts believe that men, on average, do not see their doctors often enough.

Insurance companies and plans will use the higher average use rates of women as the basis for charging women more than men for the same policies if they are allowed to do so.  This is an example of statistical discrimination, by the way, and of a very odd type, because someone loses and someone gains (in an unfair way) whether the premia are allowed to differ between men and women or whether they are not.

To see why, note that if women and men are charged the same premia, then as a group women will consume more health care for the same cost.  One could argue that women (as a class) benefit and men (as a class) lose under this scenario (if we ignore the consumption having to do with giving birth which probably should not be attributed to women alone).

But if men are charged less for the same policies than women,  then all high-using men benefit and all low-using women get hurt.

What makes this particular example even more complicated is this:  Women's greater use of health care is something which disappears with age.  Indeed, the rank-order changes when people age, and at older ages the average man consumes more in dollar figures.  But guess what happens then?

Medicare soon takes over and it does not charge higher premia by gender.  This means that when we would expect the premia of those individual health care policies to become higher for men, based on statistical evidence,  the state takes over.

This type of statistical discrimination is very complex.  Other examples exist in car insurance where young men are charged higher premia than young women, for the same coverage.  The rationale is similar:  Young men, as a group, have higher accident rates than young women, as a group.  If all young drivers were charged the same premium,  young female drivers, as a class, would pay more for the same total compensations than young male drivers, as a class.  But the practice of charging young male drivers more discriminates against careful young men and benefits reckless young women.

The car insurance example does differ from the health insurance example, because the former has to do with behavior which can be affected, at least in theory, whereas the latter may be about one's basic medical needs, as defined by gender.  Thus, one could argue that the ethical concerns in the two cases are different.

This has been your long-and-boring post of the day.  Enjoy!

Friday, April 27, 2012

I Waz A Poor Boy...

This article about the humble beginnings of president Obama and the financial struggles of Mitt Romney's family really is quite hilarious.  Sure, they try to connect with voters who are mostly not rich people. 

But what makes the piece hilarious to me is that neither Obama nor Romney are poor as adults.  Come to think of it,  politicians are pretty loaded:
While millions of Americans saw their incomes decrease, their job opportunities dissipate and their home values drop as the economy dipped, the 535 men and women they elected to represent them in the U.S. Congress were not only shielded from the economic downturn but  gained during it.
The average American’s net worth has dropped 8 percent during the past six years, while members of Congress got, on average, 15 percent richer, according to a New York Times analysis of financial disclosure.  The median net worth of members of Congress  is about $913,000, compared with about $100,000 for the country at large, the Times’ analysis found.
This wealth disparity between lawmakers and the people they represent seems to be continually growing. Nearly half of Congress — 249 members  — are millionaires, while only 5 percent of American households can make the same claim.
That's the real problem with politicians.  Not their humble or not-so-humble roots but the fact that it's considerably easier to enter into politics if one is independently wealthy to begin with.  And independently wealthy people are, by definition, somewhat removed from the realities of scraping together a living.

The Eltahawy Fire Storm And Other Pertinent Issues

Mona Eltahawy's article on the status of women in Arab countries,  Why Do They Hate Us? has created a fire storm.  I wrote about the piece earlier, before the many responses were available.

When I read Eltahawy's piece I tried to understand the identity of the misogynists, the "they" in her article title.  Is it Arab men?  That's how the fire storm has interpreted her message, and that's also the general flavor of the piece.  But she makes specific comments which differ from that reading:
So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many "Western" countries (I live in one of them). That's where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women. 
Not a single Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet's rock bottom. Poor or rich, we all hate our women


"Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently. "But they all seem to. It doesn't matter what country they're in or what religion they claim. They want to control women." 

How much does Saudi Arabia hate women? So much so that 15 girls died in a school fire in Mecca in 2002, after "morality police" barred them from fleeing the burning building -- and kept firefighters from rescuing them -- because the girls were not wearing headscarves and cloaks required in public. And nothing happened. No one was put on trial. Parents were silenced. The only concession to the horror was that girls' education was quietly taken away by then-Crown Prince Abdullah from the Salafi zealots, who have nonetheless managed to retain their vise-like grip on the kingdom's education system writ large.
This, however, is no mere Saudi phenomenon, no hateful curiosity in the rich, isolated desert. The Islamist hatred of women burns brightly across the region -- now more than ever.


The hatred of women goes deep in Egyptian society. 
All bolds are mine.

Indeed, there's only one actual quote where the haters are identified as men:
Enter that call to prayer and the sublimation through religion that Rifaat so brilliantly introduces in her story. Just as regime-appointed clerics lull the poor across the region with promises of justice -- and nubile virgins -- in the next world rather than a reckoning with the corruption and nepotism of the dictator in this life, so women are silenced by a deadly combination of men who hate them while also claiming to have God firmly on their side.

This may be nit-picking,  but it is interesting that the responses all assume a simpler interpretation of Eltahawy's thesis:  That she is blaming Arab men alone.

I recommend reading the responses (especially those here).  Many of them make important points about the dangers of generalizing to all Arab men and women or all countries,  many of them also point out that Arab women are not just helpless victims of oppression but also activists who fight it and that Arab men can also be activists fighting against the oppression of women.

But I do take issue with this counter-argument:
Yes, in Saudi Arabia women cannot drive, but men cannot elect their government, instead they are ruled over by a religiously opportunistic dynasty. In Egypt, it's true that women were subjected to virginity tests, but men were sodomised. In Sudan women are lashed for wearing trousers, but ethnic minorities are also marginalised and under assault. We must not belittle the issues women face, or relegate them to second place, but we must place them in a wider context where wholesale reform is needed. One cannot reduce a much more universal and complicated problem merely to gender.
It is certainly true that men cannot elect their government in Saudi Arabia.   But Saudi women cannot elect their government AND they cannot drive.  In Sudan, women are lashed for wearing trousers AND women who belong to ethnic minorities are marginalized and under assault.  And if women in Egypt were not sodomized, they certainly could be.

I focus on this particular example because it is also common in American anti-feminist writings where it usually takes the form "everybody has it tough."  The problem is that in many cases (though not all) being a woman does not pardon one from also belonging to that group "everybody." 

Max Fisher at the Atlantic Monthly offers tentative theories about the origins of misogyny and the possible impact of the Ottoman empire and Western colonialization on the current values of Arab societies.  He also writes about the concerns that articles of this type could be used to support an anti-Islam hate stance and questions whether Eltahawy's voice is a helpful one, given the context:
Spend some time in the Middle East or North Africa talking about gender and you might hear the expression, "My Arab brother before my Western sister," a warning to be quiet about injustice so as not to give the West any more excuses to condescend and dictate. The fact that feminism is broadly (and wrongly) considered a Western idea has made it tougher for proponents. After centuries of Western colonialism, bombings, invasions, and occupation, Arab men can dismiss the calls for gender equality as just another form of imposition, insisting that Arab culture does it differently. The louder our calls for gender equality get, the easier they are to wave away.
Eltahawy's personal background, unfortunately, might play into this more than she probably realizes. She lives mostly in the West, writes mostly for Western publications, and speaks American-accented English, all of which complicates her position and risks making her ideas seem as Westernized as she is. That's neither fair nor a reflection of the merit of her ideas, but it might inform the backlash, and it might tell us something about why the conversation she's trying to start has been stalled for so long.
I referred to this problem in my earlier post on Why Do They Hate Us, and here it is in a much more open form:
In her column, Eltahawy cleverly weaves a web of torture and oppression against Arab women, with pictures of black-painted covered-up women planted throughout the article, to accentuate this image of oppression. Everything, from virginity tests, to sexual deprivation, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment and child marriage, is included in this article to produce a column that will surely be welcomed by many Western feminists and anti-Islamists, who for years have been telling us that Muslim women are weak, oppressed victims of misogyny and rigid Islamic rules that force them to hide behind their veils.

But for many Arab women (I say many based on the negative reaction Eltahawy's column has already stirred), this column is offensive and is nothing but a combination of old cultural practices and undemocratic government actions that are described in a way to represent women as the Oriental Other, weak, helpless and submissive, oppressed by Islam and the Muslim male, this ugly, barbaric monster. Yes, women everywhere face diverse challenges. Arab women have their own fair share of issues, but to claim that these are problems of hate is deceiving. 
Indeed.  Just Google "farewell intercourse law" if you wish to see how uncritically Western press often accepts the oddest bits of rumor about the Muslim world:
Today, Egypt's state-owned Al Ahram newspaper published an opinion piece by Amr Abdul Samea, a past stalwart supporter of the deposed Hosni Mubarak, that contained a bombshell: Egypt's parliament is considering passing a law that would allow husbands to have sex with their wives after death. 

It was soon mentioned in an English language version of Al-Arabiya and immediately started zipping around social-networking sites. By this afternoon it had set news sites and the rest of the Internet on fire. It has every thing: The yuck factor, "those creepy Muslims" factor, the lulz factor for those with a sick sense of humor. The non-fact-checked Daily Mail picked it up and reported it as fact. Then Andrew Sullivan, who has a highly influential blog but is frequently lax about fact-checking, gave it a boost with an uncritical take. The Huffington Post went there, too.

There's of course one problem: The chances of any such piece of legislation being considered by the Egyptian parliament for a vote is zero. And the chance of it ever passing is less than that. In fact, color me highly skeptical that anyone is even trying to advance a piece of legislation like this through Egypt's parliament. I'm willing to be proven wrong. It's possible that there's one or two lawmakers completely out of step with the rest of parliament. Maybe.
That's pretty bad.  On the other hand, the Al-Arabiya piece mentions other possible proposals and nobody has suggested that they, too, might be hoaxes:
Egypt’s National Council for Women (NCW) has appealed to the Islamist-dominated parliament not to approve two controversial laws on the minimum age of marriage and allowing a husband to have sex with his dead wife within six hours of her death according to a report in an Egyptian newspaper. 

The appeal came in a message sent by Dr. Mervat al-Talawi, head of the NCW, to the Egyptian People’s Assembly Speaker, Dr. Saad al-Katatni, addressing the woes of Egyptian women, especially after the popular uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

She was referring to two laws: one that would legalize the marriage of girls starting from the age of 14 and the other that permits a husband to have sex with his dead wife within the six hours following her death.

Many members of the newly-elected, and majority Islamist parliament, have been accused of launching attacks against women’s rights in the country.

They wish to cancel many, if not most, of the laws that promote women’s rights, most notably a law that allows a wife to obtain a divorce without obstructions from her partner. The implementation of the Islamic right to divorce law, also known as the Khula, ended years of hardship and legal battles women would have to endure when trying to obtain a divorce. 

Egyptian law grants men the right to terminate a marriage, but grants women the opportunity to end an unhappy or abusive marriages without the obstruction of their partner. Prior to the implementation of the Khula over a decade ago, it could take 10 to 15 years for a woman to be granted a divorce by the courts.

Islamist members of Egyptian parliament, however, accuse these laws of “aiming to destroy families” and have said it was passed to please the former first lady of the fallen regime, Suzanne Mubarak, who devoted much of her attention to the issues of granting the women all her rights.

Untangle those knots if you can.  Is gender equality something pertinent only to Western cultures?  What is the proper role of Western feminists in this context?  Do we write too much on women and Islam as one of the above quotes suggests?  Are we in cahoots with the anti-Islamists?

Or do we write far too little on those questions as many on the right argue, with the implication that Western (and especially US) feminists are in cahoots with the Islamists because we routinely criticize the Catholic Church or the fundie boyz of Christianity but are relatively silent (in recent years) when it comes to Islam?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wherein Echidne Doesn't Have A Sense of Humor

This is a neat example of that old canard about feminists/liberals/whoever not having a sense of humor:

Fox News political and foreign affairs analyst Monica Crowley reacted to a report that Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke got engaged to her boyfriend by tweeting: "To a man?"

Following criticism of her on Twitter, Crowley wrote: "I love exposing the Left's total lack of a sense of humor."
As Media Matters has documented, Fluke has come under vicious attack by conservatives following her testimony before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. Most infamously, Rush Limbaugh called Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute."

Or put it in different terms:  If you don't have the same basic beliefs, the ones which make you go bwahahah! then you don't have a sense of humor.

In this case there is no joke without certain basic beliefs.  Indeed, Crowley's statement makes no real sense for someone who doesn't know the backstory about Sandra Fluke:  That she gave testimony about the question whether Catholic universities cause hardship if the insurance policies they offer do not cover the contraceptive pill.

But even knowing that doesn't explain the joke to someone without certain basic beliefs, unless one assumes that the joke is a surrealist one.

No.  To get the joke you need to know something about what  the basic beliefs of Monica Crowley might be about feminists or women who speak up on these types of questions.  If you know those then you get why she thinks her statement is funny.

All this is quite trivial.  But knowing what it means when someone accuses you of not having a sense of humor (assuming that you do have one) can be helpful.  It's mostly about a demand that the underlying basic beliefs  should be shared.

It's the most effective responses that are trickier.  I've had some success by using reversals and then demanding that people get the humor in those, too.

Frat Boyz Vs. Geeks: New Models of Masculinity In the IT Industry

This Mother Jones article talks about a new model for selling programming jobs:
Many of the dozen or so people I interviewed for this story pointed to the rise of the brogrammer—a term that seeks to recast the geek identity with a competitive frat house flavor. The essence of it comes through in comments on the question-and-answer site Quora. "How Does a Programmer Become a Brogrammer?": Brogrammers "rage at the gym, to attract the chicks and scare the dicks!" They "can work well under the tightest deadlines, or while receiving oral sex." And they have their priorities straight: "If a girl walks past in a see-through teddy, and you don't even look up because you're neck-deep in code, expect to spend a lot of time celibate no matter how bro you go."

The obvious problem with that approach is twofold:  It assumes that programmers are only  men (though there is a hogrammer term for women if they want it!) and it assumes women are sorta like bottles of beer or ham sammiches.

I have no idea how common this brogramming trend is.   But stories like this one are a healthy (?) reminder of one of the reasons why women might have trouble entering certain male-dominated industries.  Imagine being the only woman in a room full of brogrammers.  What might they think you are there for?  If they believe in the brogrammer ideas, that is.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Just Hand Over Those Cookies

And no-one will get hurt!

Just kidding. But I'm tired, what with all the wonderful posts I have written recently and I deserve some cookies. Especially chocolate chip cookies or spice cookies. I had a wonderful spice cookie recipe which I have lost. It included cloves and cardamom and the cookies were just the thing to dip in coffee. If you happen to have that recipe, please may I have it?

Or any other great cookie recipes.  Both those which take eons to prepare and quickie ones.  Especially those which are not too sweet.  I don't have a really sweet tooth/fang.

For Readers Abroad

Several of you have trouble reading the comments and with the formatting of this blog.  The cause has to do with Blogger.

Shakespeare's sister offers one solution which might work.  Here's Google's answer.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Invisible Elephants

I've often written about them. They are the missing ones in the political picture, the groups which become invisible, the arguments which are not raised. It's like a family picture, with people sitting on the couch, smiling, and in the very middle of it is that blank space. That's where the invisible elephant sits. We can't see it but something about that blank space bothers us.

This theme is common whenever we discuss, say, parenting. We mean mothering, not parenting, despite the euphemism, and that tends to result in fathers becoming that invisible elephant. The articles read connected, even logical, and yet there's something odd about them, something missing. Once you spot the elephant, that slight discomfort you feel starts making sense.

Other examples abound, of course. A recent one has to do with the way the economic crises are covered. The supply-side of the economy gets the major focus, the demand side gets little attention and practically never as one of the so-called Job Creators.

The invisible elephant in that context is the power of consumers and why proper earnings levels for ordinary people are the real job-creation foundation of any economy. But the articles often focus on supply-side concerns, covering consumers and workers only as passive recipients of the good and the bad the economy doles out to them. Including unemployment, the tightening of the belt etc.

This particular elephant is invisible in a subtle way. It is excluded because of the dominant economic frames of reference which regard the supply side as active, as a first-mover, and the demand side as passive, as the follower. Likewise, the dominant frame of reference concentrates on changes in the top layers of the economic system: Should banks be given more freedom or less? Should financial market be regulated? Should we tax firms at all?

But the elephant is not excluded in the sense of consequences if that top layer doesn't get what it wants (bad things will happen!). In that context we see it smack in the middle of the couch, weeping sadly. That demand is a powerful collective force, powerful enough to lift an economy from recession, is the invisible form of this elephant.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Blogger has recent changes which make it hard for me to keep paragraphs properly separated.  I hope the bug is fixed soon.  So apologies for any weird mergings or separations which shouldn't be there.

The commenting system this blog uses, Echo, will be discontinued on October 1, 2012.  What might replace it (if anything)? 

Why Do They Hate Us?

So asks Mona Eltahawy in an article about women in Arab countries. The article is a wail, a scream, a plea to understand why the circles which define women's lives in those countries are so oppressively small, why their walls are so tall and so heavily and religiously guarded. Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American journalist, reported having been brutally assaulted by the riot police in Cairo last fall, and this piece is not only about the status of women in Arab countries. It is about anger, about fear and about betrayal.

Eltahawy's despair should be taken seriously. Yes, she quotes only the most extreme evidence in support of her thesis. But the events she describes took place. Twelve-year-old girls are dying in childbirth in Yemen because child marriages are legal. A woman caught driving in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to ten lashes and needed a pardon to avoid them, another woman, gang-raped, was sentenced to prison for having entered a car driven by a man not related to her. And in Morocco, a sixteen-year-old did drink poison because she had been forced to marry her rapist (which the law allows for him not to be punished for the rape) who then continued beating her.

These events are real. They do not describe the lives of every woman in those countries but they are newsworthy events. So is the outcome of the Arab spring for the women of Egypt. One quarter of the parliament consists of salafis whose agenda about women truly is medieval and the number of women in the parliament is miniscule. The next crown prince of Saudi Arabia is rumored to have truly frightening views on women, and the victories of various Islamist parties cause women's rights activists worry and sleepless nights.

 Eltahawy asks why the Islamists hate women so much. Her wail resonated with me, after my recent travels on the misogynistic hate sites (though the two issues are not intended to be seen as equated here). I had to go for several long walks to re-settle my brain and heart after those, to remind myself about the real wide world out there, about people who are kind and caring and logical.

And that gave me an inkling about the hatred of women. However it is created, it is stoked in the furnace of like-minded people, increased by exposure to similar arguments and made moral by the support of religion or pseudo-science. It is not then seen as hate but as god's commands, as necessary for stability, as The Way Evolution Intended It. As justified and obvious, even to many women. The more those messages are allowed to stand uncontested, the more the hate settles in, curls itself into a circle like cat and purrs out its justifying messages. Daylight is the best sanitizer and silence in this context is like darkness.

Whether what Eltahawy describes is truly a hatred of women or of uppity women or something more complicated can be debated. But it certainly is based on the arguments about The Other.

Women are different and that difference is the only real explanation ultimately required. The Other Must Be Controlled/Protected, For The Good Of All. What drops out of sight, completely, are all the similarities between men and women, what all human beings share.

If "we" (in the abstract sense) stay silent about what it means to be a human being (and not just a man or a woman) we contribute to the Othering.  If "we" (in the abstract sense) stay silent about the misogyny, hoping that not giving it oxygen will make it go away, we contribute to the Othering by leaving the lies unchallenged. If "we" (in the sense of western commentators) avoid discussing the issues Eltahawy poses because of fears of being seen as supporting the Islamofascist hate groups in the West we also contribute to the Othering. It should be possible to address the issue of women in Arab countries without demonizing whole cultures or without arguing for violence. Indeed, that approach is the only one which would ever work.

 Eltahawy refers to that last comment in her article:
Yes: They hate us. It must be said.  Some may ask why I'm bringing this up now, at a time when the region has risen up, fueled not by the usual hatred of America and Israel but by a common demand for freedom. After all, shouldn't everyone get basic rights first, before women demand special treatment? And what does gender, or for that matter, sex, have to do with the Arab Spring? But I'm not talking about sex hidden away in dark corners and closed bedrooms. An entire political and economic system -- one that treats half of humanity like animals -- must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun. So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many "Western" countries (I live in one of them). That's where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women. ... First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You -- the outside world -- will be told that it's our "culture" and "religion" to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man -- Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation -- but they will be finished by Arab women.
On the other hand, it wasn't just Egyptian men who voted in the parliament Egypt currently has but women, too. As I've written before, many times, water has no taste to the fishes which swim in it, and values of a culture are inculcated in all its members with more or less success. But usually with more success.

The cultural problems are always deeper than one initially thinks, the justifications for women's lower status have their roots in the distant pasts of various cultures and how many of those roots have been cut varies across the globe. Religion is a powerful force: If you are told that your eternal life depends on agreeing to an oppressed life here on earth, what are you going to decide? Be a feminist here and go to hell for the rest of the eternity? Those are the kinds of trades the right-wing religious fanatics offer women in most religions.

Writing about the topic Eltahawy chose: the status of women in Arab countries, should be something we see critics (including many women) from the affected countries doing in the largest numbers. Because outsiders, however well informed, are still outsiders who lack the lived-in experience of that culture.

But what is the best response if such critics are few and lack access to the media? What is the proper response in balancing out the need to avoid neo-colonial accusations (aimed at Western feminists) and the need to avoid giving support to global warmongering with the very urgent need to speak out about problems of unfair laws and traditions against women all over the world?

A Fox To Guard The Chicken Coop. Or More on Vatican's Uppity Nun Dilemma

The more I think of the recent Vatican decision to apply more control to those "radical feminist" American nuns the more I see the whole thing as a metaphor: Catch the uppity women you can catch and lock them up. The sky is falling on the boyz in cassocks but at least they have control over the opposite sex inside the church. But that's probably too poetic. The truth may simply be the women religious are punished for their support of the Obama health care law:
Church officials did not cite a specific example of those public statements, but said the reform would include a review of ties between the Leadership Conference and NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby. NETWORK played a key role in supporting the Obama administration's health care overhaul despite the bishops' objections that the bill would provide government funding for abortion. The Leadership Conference disagreed with the bishops' analysis of the law and also supported President Barack Obama's plan. Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, said in a phone interview that the timing of the report suggested a link between their health care stand and the Vatican crackdown. The review began in 2009 and ran through June 2010, a few months after the health care law was approved. The report does not cite Obama or the bill. "I can only infer that there was strong feeling about the health care position that we had taken," Campbell said. "Our position on health care was application of the one faith to a political document that we read differently than the bishops."
On the other hand, there is this:
Around the same time of the doctrinal review of the Leadership Conference, the Vatican ordered an Apostolic Visitation, or investigation, of all American congregations for religious sisters, looking at quality of life, the response to dissent and "the soundness of doctrine held and taught" by the women. The results of that inquiry have not been released. The report released Wednesday paints a scathing portrait of the Leadership Conference of Women's Religious as consistently violating Catholic teaching. Investigators cited a speech by Sister Laurie Brink at an annual assembly that argued that religious sisters were "'moving beyond the church' or even beyond Jesus." Brink is a professor at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She did not respond to an email request for comment. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said the Leadership Conference had submitted letters that suggest that sisters in leadership teams "collectively take a position not in agreement with the church's teaching on human sexuality." In programs and presentations, investigators noted "a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith." "Some commentaries on 'patriarchy' distort the way in which Jesus has structured sacramental life in the church," the authors of the report wrote. The investigation also found that while the Leadership Conference has emphasized Catholic social justice doctrine, the group has been "silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States. The reform will be managed by Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain and could stretch over five years.
Mm. More about Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain as the Guardian of the Chicken Coop in a moment. But first note that this is all about the expression of opinions. Nuns are not allowed to express them. Only priests are, and women cannot be priests. Still, this is not simply about some opinions being unacceptable to the church powers-that-be. Even silence is a sin:
The Vatican concludes that the fact that some LCWR leaders question church doctrine in the context of the modern world is of primary concern, but so is their silence on other issues.  “The second level of the problem concerns the silence and inaction of the LCWR … given its responsibility to support a vision of religious life in harmony with that of the church and to promote a solid doctrinal basis for religious life.”
To which Sister Beth Rindler answered:
“We believe that God created men and women equally,” ... “That’s where we clash.”
So. The man assigned to get these harridans under order, Archbishop Peter Sartain, has been criticized for his possible role in the church's child abuse scandal:
A group that monitors abuse by priests says Sartain is known for something else, however: ignoring warning signs about a potential abuser. This morning, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, wrote a letter to the pope asking for Sartain's appointment to be rescinded. "You are probably not aware of just how recklessly and secretively and callously he acted recently with a priest who pled guilty two weeks ago to molesting a boy as recently as January of this year," the St-Louis-based SNAP wrote of Sartain in the letter. The letter is referring to the case of Father Alejandro Flores, convicted earlier this month of a sexual assault charge related to the abuse of an underage boy. Sartain, then the bishop of Joliet, Illinois, ordained Flores in the summer of last year--just a few months after church officials had found gay porn with young-looking boys on his computer, according to a press report quoted by SNAP. "Sartain in our view had a moral obligation to postpone the ordination, send Flores for treatment and inform the public," SNAP president David Clohessy says in an interview with SW. "He did none of that." This is the first time SNAP has called for a papal appointment to be rescinded. It is a particularly egregious case, Clohessy asserts, "because it is so clear-cut and so recent. What bishops have historically said, when they were finally caught [covering up clerical abuse], was: 'We just didn't know. Now we understand. Now we'll do better.' "
Now consider the practical implications of all this, from the demand that nuns return to traditional garb to having everything their organizations do first scrutinized for appropriateness. Add to that the fact that nuns are becoming scarcer in this country. Their total numbers today are less than 60,000, down from 180,000 roughly fifty years ago. The proposed changes make becoming a nun less attractive to modern women, I would think, unless they are truly into unquestioning obedience. And some current women religious may depart if the inquisition they will be subjected to is sufficiently unpleasant. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face! Well, the Vatican has a deeper reason: They are sending a message to all nuns in other countries that their proper role IS unquestioning obedience.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

You're Gonna Love This Story From Finland

The land with great gender equality, right? But it also has a law about the right to associate with others which creates slightly different problems from the American ones.

Suppose, for example, that a very old and very fancy organization exists in the financial industry. Call it a club, say. Any man involved in business with a good record and the recommendation of two existing members can apply. The club is hundred years old but not at all decrepit! Indeed, its membership has doubled in the last ten years.

Suppose, moreover, that the purpose of the club is to network, to do business and to create contacts, and suppose that the chairman of the club tells this quite proudly.

Then suppose that he is asked about the possibility that women might be admitted as members of the club, too, and that he answers as follows: "So far women are not members but women have visited here from the very beginning." He then adds: "It's always pleasant when female guests visit so that I get some eye pleasure."

 Mmm. That's not a made-up story but the actual current situation of Helsingin P√∂rssiklubi, Helsinki Stock Exchange Club.

It does not accept women as members. And why? Because the majority of the members would have to vote to allow women in and they have not done so. Indeed, according to the chairman it is the younger men who are most opposed to the admission of women.

Which is not surprising as it is the younger men who would most benefit from the networking the club offers, and the exclusion of women cuts back on the potential competitors.

The comments to the linked article divide fairly equally between those which state (more less irked by that "eye pleasure" comment) that women should be admitted and those which argue that women can start their own club if they want one so much and leave the gentlemen in peace, and what about all those women-only fitness clubs?

The problem with the latter two solutions is the professional nature of the Helsinki Stock Market Club and the smaller numbers of women in business. An all-female club would not offer the same networking opportunities.

 Oh, and one person stated that women are all incompetent and should stay at home.