Friday, March 28, 2014

Weekend Reading, 14/3/28: On Wage Fixing, Parenting and Texas Abortion Law

1.  Wage fixing, anyone?  This story is worth wading through.  The US antitrust laws lost most of their teeth a long time ago.  I'm still hoping for a good set of dentures, because even the free-market acolites should acknowledge that market power isn't the same thing as the power to do good.

2.  Parenting can be very tough, especially because everyone and their uncle Harry are willing to critique those attempts as "experts."  Then there are the actual experts, with study after study on various parenting outcomes.  Parenting often looks like tightrope walking while carrying a week's worth of groceries and nappies/diapers.

Thus, if you are a parent you might be relieved or upset (depending which way you are tipping on that tightrope) by the renewed focus on "free range" childhoods and how important they are for creativity.  You might also be relieved or upset by the recent finding that parental help with homework is not at all helpful*.

If all that is too much for you, read this parenting article, put up your feet and have a large glass of nectar.  While someone else watches your children, naturally.

3.  The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals:

ruled Thursday that two provisions of a Texas abortion law are constitutional, including one that has closed a third of the state’s clinics. The unanimous panel, made up of three women appointed by Republicans, had already allowed the full brunt of the law – the same one now-gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis tried to block – to go into effect.
The Supreme Court has held that laws restricting access to abortion can’t put an “undue burden” or have the purpose of putting a “substantial obstacle” in the path of a woman seeking an abortion. But in a decision written by Judge Edith Jones and signed onto by Judges Jennifer Elrod and Catharina Haynes, the Fifth Circuit argued that Texas’s law wasn’t harsh enough to meet that standard.


In the oral argument in New Orleans in January, an attorney for the clinics had pointed out that the closures disproportionately burdened women living in the Rio Grande Valley, which had only two clinics. The judges were skeptical then, and they elaborated in their decision: “Even if we were to accept that both clinics in the Rio Grande Valley were about to close as a result of the admitting privileges provision, however, this finding does not show an undue burden,” they wrote. In fact, they don’t have to “accept” anything – both clinics closed three weeks ago.
The closures are not an undue burden, write the judges because “it takes less than three hours on Texas highways” to get to Corpus Christi. (The Corpus Christi clinic is expected to close in September.) “Although some clinics may be required to shut their doors, there is no showing whatsoever that any woman will lack reasonable access to a clinic within Texas,” they add, but only heed evidence from the trial in October, when the law had barely taken effect.

I'm not a goddess of law but I wonder how courts decide when something is an "undue burden."  Sometimes just having to fill in a form can be argued to be a burden, sometimes having to travel a long distance is not an undue burden, even if travel costs money and time.   So.
*I can think of a reason why this might be the case.  The point of the homework is not to submit a perfect set of answers but to learn from going through the tasks, and that learning includes taking on the responsibility for the task as well as for the particular items the homework tries to teach. 

It's the process which matters, more than the outcome, and premature help with the process (or even knowing that a parent will go through the answers later and will fix any mistakes before the teacher sees the) could dilute the incentives to work hard on the assignment.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

On Tech, Panties, Construction Sites and Street Harassment: Occupational Gender Segregation in the Popular Culture.

How about an interesting juxtaposition of stuff about gender and tech?  Here's a story about a different way of getting young women interested in computer science careers.  And here's a new (not safe for work) website for tech fanciers.  It's going to offer everything about mobile technology, with a sexy twist!

Sexy, in this context, means women with panties around their ankles, because sex is equated with the female body.  The website offers lots of goodies:

Readers can interact with the magazine by playing embedded mini-games and puzzles or joining in conversations via the magazine's in-app Twitter feed. Readers can also enjoy audio and video of hotties reading the articles, similar to a podcast. And readers can vote in the app for the Wannabe a Hottie contest, in which readers will choose a "girl next door" to be flown in for a photo shoot and feature at the end of the year. Hot Tech Today is everything a tech enthusiast needs in one app.
Mmm.  As far as I can tell, all the "hotties" will be female.  Imagine a "boy next door" competition!  Perhaps that would draw in more women interested in tech?

Just kidding, sadly, because that website doesn't try to draw women into tech, rather the exact opposite.
Occupational gender segregation does seem to take their cues from stuff like this.  It's not that different from gender-coded toy aisles (where it seems that physician kits are now in the boys' aisles!), except that young women in tech might have to view themselves both as the participants and as one of the sideline objects of participation, and that can be hard to take in the long run.

Speaking of occupational gender segregation and street harassment, have a look at this Australian Snickers chocolate bar ad.  The joke is at the very end.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Schools Policing Gender

Two recent US items of interest in this context.  First, a boy with a My Little Pony lunch sack was told by the school not to bring it in because the lunch sack (coded for girls in this culture) was a "trigger" for bullies. 

Second, a Christian school told the grandparents of an eight-year-old girl that she looked (and acted?) too much like a boy.

These gender-policing examples may no longer be extremely common in the wider American society (though I have witnessed parents doing this quite a bit, by replacing the toy a child holds with a different toy etc.)  But the camp believing in mostly innate sex differences should make a note that cultural forcing does take place and that gender roles are being policed, even by the children themselves.

Fun And Games in the Supreme Court. The Hobby Lobby Case And Women's Human Rights.

In the oral arguments about the Hobby Lobby case.  First Justice Kagan points out what will happen if we are going to regard for-profit corporations (which don't possess souls)  as religious believers with religious values worthy of honoring in the marketplace:

When Clement tried to deflect this list, Kagan came armed with an even bigger what. What of religious employers who object to gender equality, or the minimum wage, or family medical leave, or child labor laws? If the Supreme Court agrees with Hobby Lobby’s brief, which argues that laws burdening a corporation’s purported religious faith must survive the “most demanding test known to constitutional law,” then there would be few laws corporations could not exempt themselves from following.
Bolds are mine.   Just for your elucidation, Clement answered like this:

Paul Clement, the attorney for the companies, rejected that by calling it a “parade of horribles” that would not materialize.

Which is extremely reassuring...

And keep in mind that the religious values the market is expected to honor here are the social and cultural values of nomadic shepherding communities from two thousand years ago or so, at least in the context of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  That's worth pointing out, because it is those social values that the rest of us, with different religious beliefs, are most likely forced to honor under the corporations-are-believers view. That is bad news for women, but not only for women.

Does that sound extreme?  Two reasons for the way I wrote that.  First, there is no obvious way to limit the possible religious rights of for-profit corporations to just birth control or abortions, and a decision that way in the Hobby Lobby case would automatically mean that 

“You would see religious objectors come out of the woodwork,” Kagan said.
As I mentioned in my earlier post on the Hobby Lobby case, a firm could then refuse to promote women in the organization, based on the fundamentalist belief of some sects that women must never be placed above men in any hierarchy and so on.

The second reason for my dismal mood is that the five conservative Justices appear to be ready to rule for Hobby Lobby, which opens the gates of hell, so to speak.  Indeed, Justice Scalia is eager to accept corporations in the pews of his Catholic church:

"There's not a single case that says a for-profit enterprise cannot make a religious claim," Justice Antonin Scalia said.

And finally, the case seems to be about abortion, once again, based on the scientifically very questionable idea that emergency contraceptives and IUDs constitute abortion, mostly just because someone believes that they do.   As Justice Kennedy hates abortion, that means a five-four decision for Hobby Lobby, because no firm should be made to pay for abortion or even for contraception which forced-birthers have decided is abortion in their minds. 

But of course the firms aren't really "paying" for abortions in the first place, unless we take such a tremendously wide view of "paying" that just giving a woman her properly-earned wages means that.  Because that's what the health insurance offered by firms ultimately is:  part of the total wage package.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Hobby Lobby Case And The Supremes

Tomorrow the Supreme Court of the United States is going to hear oral arguments in two cases having to do with the ACA's coverage of contraception for women (and, incidentally, for men, given that it takes two to tango, and also because the same rules would most likely cover a male contraceptive pill if it ever became generally accepted).  The more famous of the cases is the Hobby Lobby case:

The owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties don't have a problem with offering insurance that covers most forms of birth control, but they aren't willing to cover emergency contraceptives — like Plan B or ella -- or IUDs. Hobby Lobby contends its "religious beliefs prohibit them from providing health coverage for contraceptive drugs and devices that end human life after conception." The question these cases are seeking to solve is whether for-profit companies have a right to exercise religious freedom under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal law passed in 1993 that states the “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability." If they do, does the government have a compelling interest to override it in this instance?

From my divine (not lawyerly) standpoint, these cases matter greatly because if for-profit corporations can be regarded as having religious beliefs of the type covered by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, then what's to stop a firm from discriminating against women, say? 

After all, some fundamentalist sects argue that all women should stay at home and more of them argue that no woman should ever be in a position to lead men.  I find it hard to see how for-profit firms could have a religious exemption applicable only to the coverage of contraception and not to all the ancient misogynistic and anti-gays&lesbians ideas so easily found in various holy texts.

Then there's the question of defining emergency contraceptives and IUDs as abortifacients.  That's the "scientific" basis of the suits, I guess, despite pretty obvious counterarguments.  Does it matter if a legal case is based on possible pseudoscience?

Peeling Onions. Or Writing This Blog.

That's how I see what I try to do here: peeling onions, but not just the skin of the onions.  I keep on peeling, layer by layer, trying to understand the issues I write about.  Mostly I fail, and then, of course, tears have to be shed when peeling onions.

It's the deepest levels of "why?" that I wish* to pursue.  Why do we humans do the things we do, both bad and good?  To what extent could we change our behavior? 

It may be that this pursuit is pointless, that it doesn't interest most people, that because we, so to speak, live on the outer skins of the onion who cares what happens in the deeper layers?

But it is the deeper layers which ultimately define that outer skin.


Where did these thoughts come from?

Partly from the struggles I have with myself (boxing gloves worn by both halves of me) about how to pick among the many, many topics which interest me, because I cannot write on all of them, partly from some of my recent thoughts about the differences between activism and the kind of work (if you can call it work) that I try to do on this blog.
*It's not even a question of pure wishing, because that makes the choice look too voluntary.  It's how I'm built. 

Americans Don't Like Female Bosses?

Bryce Covert talks about this:

In its annual report of the Highest Rated CEOs of 2014, based on employee feedback gathered during the last year, just two women appear on Glassdoor’s list, and they don’t break into the top 30. The top 10 are all white men. 
Sharen Turney, CEO of Victoria’s Secret, is ranked at number 35 with an 85 percent approval rating. The only other woman, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, ranks second to last (there are 51 on the list due to an error that originally left someone out) with a 79 percent rating, only beating GE’s Jeffrey R. Immelt.

Part of the problem is clearly that there are so few female CEOs to begin with. They make up less than 15 percent of executive officers at Fortune 500 companies and haven’t made any significant progress in four years.

Covert then talks about two studies which shows that people prefer male bosses, among those who express a preference, though the percentage expressing no gender preferences in their bosses is actually pretty big and growing.  From a 2013 piece by her: