Saturday, April 19, 2014

Meanwhile, in Russia. Extreme Sexism in a Politician's Speech

On the one hand this man, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, is viewed as the right-wing clown of Russian politics, on the other hand he also happens to have power.  See what he says to a female journalist.

It's like a volcanic eruption of most of the nasty memes about women:  Pregnant women shouldn't be at press conferences, women's libidos (the "beasts" between women's legs) drive them to say stupid stuff with their "dumb bitch" mouths.  Indeed, such women should be raped hard, and any woman who defends other women is a lesbian (meant as a slur).

A rather nasty blob of primeval slime, this Mr. Zhirinovsky.

The good news is that the Duma's ethics committee has promised to look into this speech.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Egypt Cool With Divorce? What Do The Findings of The Pew Global Attitudes Survey Really Mean?

The Pew Global Attitudes project has a survey of eight "hot-button" issues, to see how the values associated with them vary in prevalence across countries.  The new site has a quick summary of the findings.  The headline states:

France likes cheating, Egypt is cool with divorce, and other things the world believes about sex and marriage

It's the bit about Egypt being cool with divorce that is worth looking into a bit more, because the overall tone of the piece suggests that it's surprising how OK Egyptians are with divorce. Later the story states:
Divorce is slightly less polarized, with disapproval concentrated in Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia (and Bolivia, for whatever reason). Egypt stands out compared to other Muslim countries, especially nearby Tunisia; in Tunisia, about 55 percent of respondents giving an answer disapproved of divorce, compared to only 8 percent of Egyptians giving an answer.

I'm confused about those numbers, by the way, because the chart at the source reads to me as if 46% of Tunisians regard divorce as unacceptable while 7% of Egyptians do, but perhaps the different data comes from more detailed parts of the report.

Never mind, what's important about that link to the chart is the tiny writing on the left about the context:

Even in several socially conservative Middle Eastern nations, relatively few consider divorce unacceptable, including around 10% or fewer in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

And that's why I write about all this, and especially to the comparison with Tunisia.  Tunisia has a divorce law which is almost gender-equal, whereas Egypt does not.  Likewise, divorce in Islam has very particular features and is based on religious interpretations as something allowed to men in much wider circumstances than it is allowed to women.  As far as I can tell, divorce in Jordan, for example, is based on the Islamic sharia law.

The flavor of the interpretation of Egyptians as somehow cool with divorce as a sign of something one wouldn't expect from that country, given its socially conservative culture, is misplaced, because a certain type of divorce IS part of that socially conservative religious tradition.  But it's not a gender-equal type of divorce, and finding it acceptable doesn't measure liberal values.

Hillary Clinton, a Grandmother-To-Be! Will She Now Not Run For President?

This is a silly post, suitable for a Friday.  USAToday wrote about the pregnancy of Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton:

Former president Bill Clinton and his wife have made no secret of their wish for a grandchild. It's unclear how Chelsea's pregnancy will affect Hillary Clinton, who is considering a race for president in 2016.
At the 2011 World Economic Forum in Davos, Bill Clinton told that audience, "I would like to have a happy wife, and she won't be unless she's a grandmother. It's something she wants more than she wanted to be president."

Being a grandfather doesn't seem to have affected past presidents, in terms of their professional ambitions, but in the case of a female politician, the effects of impending "grandmotherhood" are "unclear." 

Even though all this is silly (and naturally congratulations are due to all concerned!), it's worth pointing out that those silly statements have their roots in gendered ideas.  For instance, being a mother is seen more clearly as both a relationship AND a job than being a father, and some of that attaches itself to the perceived difference between grandmothers and grandfathers, too.  Perhaps USAToday imagines that Hillary Clinton will now want to do more babysitting than presidenting?

Then there's the idea that because Bill Clinton once said that his wife wants to be a grandmother more than she wanted to be president she might now be happy and satisfied and no longer interested in running for the president of the USA. That either-or thinking is not used for male politicians who can be both fathers and presidents and grandfathers and presidents.  Indeed, those who don't have any offspring or offspring of their offspring are regarded with slight suspicion.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Speed-Blogging on Purgatory Thursday, 2014: On CEO Pay, The Two Countries of the USA and The Plight of Black Girls

Purgatory Thursday is my translation of the Finnish name for this day in the Christian calendar (kiirastorstai).  I like the mouth feeling of the term.

What to read today, to go with the tone I set above?  How about executive compensations?

The Times reported that the median compensation for C.E.O.’s in 2013 was $13.9 million, a 9 percent increase from 2012. The Wall Street Journal, which did its own, smaller survey a few weeks earlier, described the 2013 pay increases as representing “moderate growth.”
Find out what the average growth rate in the US workers' wage packet is and then compare the two.  It's a lot better to be a CEO than the average worker, and the term "moderate growth" has a different meaning for the two groups.

Here's a fun picture of the executive compensations of non-profit leaders, separated by gender.  You can move your cursor over the dots and find out more about the people.  The blue dots are guys, the yellow dots are gals.

Talking of graphs and such, it's worth noting that the southern states in the US differ from the northern states along many social and economic variables.  These comparisons show a few of them.

The differences are partly due to history (and even earlier due to climate), but it's certainly worth asking how that pattern correlates with various states' political leanings.

Finally, do read this Salon post by Brittney Cooper about black girls.  She describes the impact of growing up in circumstances which may leave the same markings on children as growing up in war zones does and makes an important point about the societal invisibility of the suffering she describes:

What threads these women’s lives together is the collective lack of national care for their stories. Black women have been passing these narratives around the blogosphere and social media to each other, posting collective laments, and wondering if anyone else cares. These stories are not national news to anybody else, but they are national news to us.
We must do better.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On the WSJDLive Sausage Fest

Where The Digital World Connects.  That's the blurb for the WSJDLive conference, to be held next October.  Want to learn more about the conference?

At WSJDLive, leaders from both established and emerging tech companies will explore the most compelling tech opportunities evolving around the world. Through dynamic on-stage interviews, intimate roundtables with experts on cutting-edge topics, and interactive events, WSJDLive participants will connect with peers in an environment of unparalleled discussion, debate and global discovery.

Want to learn even more?  Here are the speakers.  They show some racial and ethnic diversity and there's variations in eyeglasses and hair color.  On the other hand, all the speakers are men.

My Twitter feed has lots of funny stuff about that last bit.  But the problem is a bit deeper than just the Wall Street Journal's usual preference to have sausage fests (as some called this) or their blindness to the fact that they are having one, again, and the problem is that most of those men are CEOs.  Capitalists, if you wish.  And women are scarce among the CEOs.

This doesn't mean that I'm defending the speaker selection process, and it doesn't mean that the conference couldn't find any female CEOs with the relevant experience.  Neither does it mean that conferences focusing on CEOs are necessarily the best idea to talk about how the digital world connects.

But it's important to note that inequalities of various types are not just interpersonal or perception dilemmas, amenable to simple solutions, such as reminding conference builders of the importance not to have gender or race blinders attached to their eyeglass frames.  Those reminders are not useless (and can be important as a way of opening the initial gates), but as long as the underlying structural problems remain, we need to put more effort into solving those structural problems.

Put in a different way, the problem here is twofold:  First the absence of female speakers in the conference, and, second, the absence of women among the relevant group of CEOs.  To ask for just more female speakers doesn't fix the second part.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, Continuing Pregnancy Can Be A Crime For Users Of Illegal Drugs

Tennessee is going to make pregnancy into a potential criminal offense for women who are using illegal drugs:

The state legislature has passed a bill that would allow police to investigate drug-taking mothers if their unborn children are harmed by their addiction.
Tennessee may become the first state with a law that could criminally prosecute pregnant women if they harm their unborn children by taking illegal drugs. Miscarriages, stillbirths, and infants born with birth defects would be grounds for police investigation and charges that could put the mother behind bars for up to 15 years.
Last week, the proposed legislation to allow for criminal assault charges to be brought against drug-addicted pregnant women overwhelmingly passed the Tennessee Senate with bipartisan support after already sailing through the House. The bill states that “nothing shall preclude prosecution of a woman for an assaultive offense for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug.”
Now think about that for a while.  What's the best thing* for a women addicted to illegal drugs to do should she get pregnant, if she wants to avoid the chance of such investigations?

Yup, you got it.  She should get an abortion.  But because all this comes from the same ideological roots as the desire to ban all abortions, the forced-birthers have turned themselves into pretzels:**

Weaver and the bill’s other supporters feel that the Safe Harbor Act did not go far enough in reducing rates of babies born with NAS or punishing pregnant drug abusers. “Here’s the double standard. If I hit a lady who’s pregnant and they’re both [mother and fetus] killed, that’s two counts of homicide. But a woman who is pregnant can stab herself in the stomach and hurt her baby and not be charged with anything,” says Weaver. “It [the Safe Harbor Act] made a woman who was pregnant above the law.”
Those "two counts of homicide" are because people who have Weaver's opinions supported laws which define the death of a fetus as a homicide.  So Weaver is arguing against herself, in a fashion.

All these initiatives come from the desire to define personhood as beginning from conception (as long as it's not in a test tube but in a uterus).  That defining personhood this way reduces the personhood of the person whose uterus it is doesn't matter.  Women addicted to illegal drugs are seen as criminals, women injecting themselves in their own stomachs are viewed as potential killers of the real person inside them, and women giving birth to a child with birth defects could then be put behind bars for up to fifteen years, even if the birth defects had nothing to do with any drug use, and even if imprisoning the mother that way could be in the worst interest of the child.
*Those who participate in drug treatment programs will not be charged, according to the bill.  But such treatments may not be available for all affected women, especially those in rural areas.
**NAS stands for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. As far as I can tell, its effects are temporary and treatable.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Phyllis Schlafly on Hypergamy

I bet you never thought you'd read that combination of words in a title!  Phyllis Schlafly is an older version of the American conservative female anti-feminists, a type which has more recent examples many of the gals of the Independent Women's Forum.  Schlafly is well known for her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.  But she also deserves to be well known for preaching to other women about the importance of staying at home and not having a career while making that preaching into a nice career for herself.

Anyway, Schlafly has now opined on the question of the gender gap in earnings, and here's where things get very interesting.  She states:

Another fact is the influence of hypergamy, which means that women typically choose a mate (husband or boyfriend) who earns more than she does. Men don’t have the same preference for a higher-earning mate.
While women prefer to HAVE a higher-earning partner, men generally prefer to BE the higher-earning partner in a relationship. This simple but profound difference between the sexes has powerful consequences for the so-called pay gap.
Suppose the pay gap between men and women were magically eliminated. If that happened, simple arithmetic suggests that half of women would be unable to find what they regard as a suitable mate.
Obviously, I’m not saying women won’t date or marry a lower-earning men, only that they probably prefer not to. If a higher-earning man is not available, many women are more likely not to marry at all. [...]
The best way to improve economic prospects for women is to improve job prospects for the men in their lives, even if that means increasing the so-called pay gap.

So delicious!  Never mind lesbian women or women who choose not to partner at all, never mind that the pay gap is much smaller in some other countries than in the US, and people still date and marry across the gender divide.  What Schlafly hints at here is the old conservative trade-off between marriage and independence:  Want to get educated and have a career, girl?  Then you will die alone except for those hundreds of cats.

This is a very common anti-feminist meme and it doesn't die even when evidence doesn't support it.

Next that hypergamy bit.  It's probably straight out of evolutionary psychology of a certain type.  The idea is that women "marry up" in terms of resources and that men "marry up" in terms of their female partners' looks, youth and overall fecundity.  This is assumed to be a hard-wired sex difference, created as an evolutionary adaptation during a time when prehistoric humans lived in small extended-kin based nomadic groups.  That nomadic tribes of that type are unlikely to be able to accumulate the kind of male resources the theory stipulates for the adaptation to be selected looks like a major problem to me.  The sexually attractive resources of anyone, whether male or female,  in such groups would most likely be embodied in health, youth and various food-acquisition skills.

The alternative theory is, obviously, that the tendency for women to "marry up" cannot be disentangled from the long history of laws, traditions and norms or from the history of women's lesser access to alternative ways of making a living than through marriage.  In short, hypergamy cannot simply be assumed to be some innate sex difference, as long as cultures organize the resource-accruing activities differently for men and women and when that organizing results in women earning less than men, on average. 

Indeed, if hypergamy is caused by societal rules about women and inheritance, women and paid work and what the proper gender roles should be (with emphasis on a division of labor which leaves women without independent sources of income), then Schlafly's own argument would contribute to it.  Was it taken seriously, that is, as a "simple but profound difference" between the sexes.

For more on how hypergamy looks to be changing when the genders are more equal, see my post here.
Added later:  Given the Ayaan Hirsi Ali honorary doctorate debate (see below), it might be fun for you to know that Phyllis Schlafly was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2008 by Washington University in Saint Louis.  The explanation for that award was:

In bestowing this degree, the University is not endorsing Mrs. Schlafly's views or opinions; rather, it is recognizing an alumna of the University whose life and work have had a broad impact on American life and have sparked widespread debate and controversies that in many cases have helped people better formulate and articulate their own views about the values they hold.[58]

Monday, April 14, 2014

Speed-Blogging Monday 4/14/14: On Scott Walker, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and The Silence About Earnings

This is the Tax Day in the US and time for me to face how much money I lose by writing so much for nothing.  On the other hand, Uncle Sam won't get that money to pass it on to corporations in the way those subsides often work.  But you could send me money if you have any under the sofa cushions/pillows (or wait until my May fund drive).  (Why do I find begging so hard?)

First, on one of the nine Nazg├╗ls, the governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker:

Amid reports that Wisconsin ranks 25th in the country in paying women as equally as men, Gov. Scott Walker is taking flak for repealing a state law that allowed workers to seek punitive damages for pay inequality and other discriminatory workplace practices.
The criticism was leveled at Walker on Equal Pay Day, April 8, the symbolic day when women’s earnings finally catch up to men’s earnings from the previous year.
Wisconsin passed an equal pay law under Democrats in 2009, allowing plaintiffs to sue in state court as well as federal court. Supporters argued the federal Equal Pay Act did not provide adequate financial compensation to aggrieved workers.
But Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2012 repealed the state equal pay law, leaving Wisconsin as one of only five states in the nation without one.

There's something about governor Walker which rubs my scales the wrong way.  If you think I'm just typically female in being overly emotional, have a look at the stuff he has managed to do in the past in that poor state.

Second, Brandeis University first offered Ayaan Hirsi Ali an honorary doctorate and then withdrew the offer.  You can guess the kinds of things this combination of events lends itself to, including accusations of liberal fascism and the culture of "shut-up"   and of course the Ross-Douthat interpretation of what's going on at Brandeis:

According to Douthat, Brandeis is trying to silence Ali, but to get to that point he has to conflate the Brandeis case with the Brendan Eich case at the Mozilla Foundation.  Because Ali was invited to come and speak at Brandeis, so she wasn't really silenced.  On the other hand, it's true that people who get their honorary doctorates first dangled in front of their faces and then snatched away publicly probably won't want to come and speak at the offending university.

I don't have anything interesting to say about the underlying dilemmas which could be discussed for the next hundred years.   Obviously, of course,  universities should study the backgrounds of people they are going to reward with honorary doctorates, given that honorary doctorates are about rewarding.

Third, why is it the customary rule in the US that salaries are secret?  Here's one answer to the question:  because firms require that secrecy.  Michelle Chen notes that the Paycheck Fairness Act (which Republicans suffocated at birth) would have made some salary information more visible:

The Paycheck Fairness Act would have shielded workers from retaliation if they discuss their salaries with coworkers. Employers would have had to “prove that pay disparities exist for legitimate, job-related reasons,” according to the National Partnership for Women & Families. In addition, the bill would have closed disparities in the legal remedies available for violations of the Equal Pay Act, so workers could claim the same kinds of damages provided under other wage discrimination laws. And overall, workers would have had an easier time seeking compensation in federal court, rather than the bureaucracy of the National Labor Relations Board, which tends to yield weaker penalties.
The bill would also have directed the Labor Department and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to proactively gather data and investigate wage discrimination on a broader scale.

If you don't know what the guy in the next cubicle makes, you might not know that you are not being paid fairly (or that he isn't paid fairly).  So all this links to the ease with which a firm could be sued for race and/or gender discrimination, which is the reason why Republicans had to kill the act.