Saturday, April 21, 2012

New Hate Sites

The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated several "manosphere" sites as hate sites. The justification? This:
The so-called “manosphere” is peopled with hundreds of websites, blogs and forums dedicated to savaging feminists in particular and women, very typically American women, in general. Although some of the sites make an attempt at civility and try to back their arguments with facts, they are almost all thick with misogynistic attacks that can be astounding for the guttural hatred they express.
Yup. Guttural hatred would be the correct term. It's gotten more guttural recently. Wear a hazmat suit if you decide to visit the listed sites or any of the hundreds of other similar ones which exist on the net.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Those Automated Phone Answering Systems

Offer an interesting example of some changes which may save firms money but which also increase the true opportunity costs for their customers.

Sayz Echidne, after having spent a frustrating afternoon listening to canned messages and pressing digits on the mobile while trying to reach a real person. Because the problem I had did not have an automated answer.

The time I had to spend is a loss to me. I couldn't do other work at the same time, or not as well, and I couldn't do rest or relaxation, either. In economic terms this loss is a real cost. For instance, if it stops a person from carrying out work for pay either the pay for that work is lost or something else will be lost later when the work can be finally carried out. That "something else" is the value of what would otherwise have occurred at that time.

Yet when firms consider changes of these types to the way they operate, the extra customer costs are seldom factored in, until they results in a drop of revenues. Because all firms automated their phone systems at about the same time, customers are stuck with that extra time expenditure.

What's my point here, other than venting about a minor frustration? That when we calculate costs and benefits to various economic agents we should be careful not to ignore costs or benefits which are transferred to someone else, unless, of course, we are the accountants for only one economic agent.

For instance, sending seriously ill patients home from hospitals earlier will save hospitals money. But if those patients then need home-care, someone to stay with them or visiting nurses to see them, the total savings (if they still are savings) will be less than the savings to just the hospitals. This from the point of view of the whole economy, not just the hospitals.

The Rebuttals. Or Why The US Economy Is Not Biased Against Men

As opposed to being biased that way. It's important to remember that the initial argument goes like this: The US Economy Favors Women!

The Atlantic Monthly posted two rebuttals. One is by Bryce Covert:
Is there hard data we might examine in order to determine what's causing the gender wage gap he thinks is so misleading? In fact, there is. A GAO report tried to account for the difference in earnings between men and women and found that factors like work patterns (experience or time in the workforce, for example), industry, occupation, race, marital status, and job tenure do come into play. However, it then stripped all of those factors out, and it still found that women make 80 percent of what men earn. It concluded, "[W]e were not able to explain the remaining earnings difference." One of the possibilities, it said, is discrimination, pure and simple.
This is the study I use in my gender gap series.
The second rebuttal is by the Catalyst Inc. and makes the point that family-friendly policies benefit both men and women, what with men starting their lives as babies and then often becoming fathers themselves. So they are not a sign of reverse discrimination against men. And, astonishingly, the zero-sum game between men and women in the MRA view of the world is not zero-sum in the real world because (lo and behold!) men and women sometimes live together, help each other, even (gulp!) love each other:
But here's where it gets even more interesting: Men now have more personal reasons to support equality too. Take fair pay. Of the more than 25 million married couples with children in the US in 2010, 57.7% were dual-career couples. And in 2009, working wives contributed 37.1% to family income. Yet many women today still earn less and get promoted less frequently than men from day-one of their careers--regardless of their aspirations, credentials, work experience and parenthood status. Over the course of a 40-year career, this can add up to an average of $380,000 in lost wages. For fathers who rely on their partner's income, support for pay equity is a no-brainer. Equal pay equals more money for the family.
I still also recommend my direct rebuttal of the Nemko article below. Because it's almost as nasty as Nemko's piece and addresses his specific arguments.

Then to the media politics in all this: The Nemko piece has over 400 comments, which means that it was good piece for the Atlantic Monthly! That about half of them are misogynistic comments (all about what's wrong with those billions of women in the world) is of no consequence to the editors. Or perhaps they were babes-in-the-woods and never thought that the intended audience of a misogynistic piece might be misogynists?

What's extremely ironic is that the comments thread to the Nemko piece offers such strong evidence of misogyny among one group of commentators that it would outweigh any kind of evidence of bias against men in the actual article (had it offered such). Just imagine one of those guys in charge of the hiring process at some firm!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Is The US Economy Really Biased Against Men?

I debated myself for a while about the advisability of posting on this opinion piece in the Atlantic Monthly, by Marty Nemko, who appears to be the co-chairman of the National Organization for Men (!). Mostly because the initial opinion piece is intended to be a click magnet or linkbait and I don't wish to reward bad behavior by the Atlantic, especially if they don't offer a balancing post at all*.

But then someone must address the issues in Mr. Nemko's piece, so it might as well be me.

He begins with a parable:
You've just landed on Planet Zuto.
The Intergalactic Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (IEEOC) has sent you to determine whether Zuto's economy is fair to its two sexes: vozems and zems. Your boss suggests you'll probably find sexism against the vozems.
But your first discovery is that 60 vozems graduate from college for every 40 zems. You discover clues as to why. Despite the under-representation of zems, many scholarships are set aside for vozems, few for zems. The curriculum accentuates vozems' accomplishments, zems' failings. Student groups are funded to encourage vozems, for example, Future BusinessVozems, far fewer for zems.
You beam your first report back to the IEEOC: Zuto U's appear to be sexist against zems, not vozems.
Next, you examine the Zuto Bureau of Labor Statistics and find that the unemployment rate for vozems is 20% lower than for zems. You are shocked to discover that rather than trying to help zems land work, the government deliberately exacerbates zems' deficit: vozem-owned businesses get special preferences in landing government contracts and taxpayer-backed small-business loans are set aside for vozems.
You beam back your next report to the IEEOC: More signs of sexism against zems. Your boss responds, "But vozems earn 77 zits for every 100 zems earn!"

Good stuff, eh? But note the initial setting in its ahistority. We are not told why vozems seem to get such preferential treatment on that planet. The probable reason for that is intimately tied to the 77 zits figure. The vozems may have been barred from economic opportunities in the past but there are now attempts to change that.

That quote sets the stage for the whole article. Just substitute women for vozems and men for zems. Though be careful with that substitution, because men's unemployment rate in fact is no higher than women's unemployment rate over the long-run. It rises more in recessions and bounces back more rapidly when recessions end because there are many more male workers in the bellwether industries of construction and manufacturing.

Nemko's basic premise appears to be that things would be perfectly completely gender-equal if only there weren't any special set-asides or women-only groups in colleges and at work. But those arrangements exist for a reason, and that reason is that everything is NOT completely gender-equal. Whether they work to increase the representation of women in traditionally male-dominated industries is a different question.

But the reason why colleges and universities might have special groups for women who study physics or computer science, say, is because women are scarce in those fields, and because being one of the few women in the classroom can be difficult. It makes little sense to offer men support groups in those field as they are already a majority.

On the other hand, such groups for men who study, say, early childhood education, would be fantastic and deserve to be created.

What I conclude from the above quote is that Nemko is very much opposed to anything that smacks of affirmative action for traditionally excluded groups. He regards that as reverse discrimination.

But he has more to say about how the US economy hurts men:
The 77-cents-on-the-dollars statistic is calculated in a way that is biased against men. For example, while among all physicians, men earn more than women, men are more likely to be in specialties requiring longer training, high-stress, and irregular hours, for example, surgery and cardiology. In contrast, women are more likely to be pediatricians. Despite that bias, across all careers, surveys report that childless women under 30 make more than men. More than 90 percent of workplace deaths, military deaths, and severe workplace injuries (e.g., amputations, black lung disease) occur to men. Such dangerous work justify higher pay for men.
My answers to that:
1. Studies controlling for working hours and occupation still find a largish unexplained earnings difference between men and women. Indeed, good studies control for all those factors routinely. He is right that the 77-cents-to-a-dollar figure is not necessarily due to discrimination. But his arguments fail to account for a large chunk of the total difference, the chunk which obstinately stays there after researchers take into account education, experience, hours worked, occupation, marital status, age, number of minor children etc. What that unexplained residual might be caused by can be debated, of course, but it certainly leaves scope for discriminatory effects. See my gender gap series for more on this.

Or put in very simple terms: If we compare male pediatricians to female pediatricians, we find an average earnings difference to the detriment of the latter. If we compare male cardiologists to female cardiologists we also find an average difference to the detriment of the latter.

2. Then this:
Despite that bias, across all careers, surveys report that childless women under 30 make more than men.
Which surveys might those be?

Because Nemko doesn't give us a reference I'm going to hazard a guess that he talks about the survey which compared the earnings of young men and women in urban centers. But that study failed to hold education levels constant. As women in those areas have more education than men, the survey amounts to comparing oranges with grapefruit. To find out whether young childless women indeed earn more than young childless men we need to compare men and women with the same amount of education. Otherwise we run the risk of attributing an education bonus to gender.

In general it's tricky to make an earnings prognosis from very young workers. This is because most income differences accrue over time and not at the point of entry to work, whatever their causes might be.

3. Nemko argues that the higher occupational mortality of men justifies their higher pay. But this doesn't work. The reason is that the particularly dangerous occupations are not especially well-paid overall, certainly not when compared to the relatively safe environment of corporate boardrooms. And it's in the latter places that men earn large incomes.

This also doesn't work because the number of men in the truly dangerous occupations is not large enough to have any major influence on the overall earnings differences by gender.

The connection Nemko tries to build here is akin to arguing that because (relatively poorly paid) fishermen suffer from a high risk of death at work the guys who run the financial markets deserve to get paid a lot. That's pretty weird but not uncommon in this particular line of thought.

Two further comments on the higher occupational mortality of men: First the reference to military death rates is quite fascinating because women have traditionally been excluded from the military and are still mostly excluded from combat roles. This gender-based exclusion is now counted as an advantage to women! Or at least a reason why they also deserve to get paid less.

Second, as I have written before, prostitution just may be the most dangerous occupation of all and it is a predominantly female one. But because it is an illegal occupation it is not listed in those risk statistics.

What have we got so far? Nemko argues that men are discriminated against, in the sense of reverse discrimination. He also argues that women earn less than men for reasons that are to do with the valor, bravery and hard work of men. Or that is how I interpret the examples Nemko chose there.

So what comes next? Policies about childcare and pregnancy leaves and such are also discrimination against men!
In honest conversation, most people will agree that, on average, men are more often willing to do the things it takes to get promoted, for example, to make time to take advanced technical courses by forgoing recreation such as sports or shopping. Men are more likely to be willing to move to a God-forsaken place (Montgomery, Alabama, anyone?) for a promotion, and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to work longer hours.
Most people will also agree that, on average, women are more eager to have children and to be deeply involving in their upbringing. So women's committees and caucuses, with the help of outside advocacy groups with close ties to the media such as Catalyst, NOW, and AAUW, have pressured workplaces to institute programs for employees' children, for example:
• On-site child care, which diverts money from all employees' salaries and/or raises company products' prices, which ultimately costs jobs.
• Formal or informal policies that allow parents to leave work early, for example, to attend their kid's soccer game, leaving non-parents of both sexes to pick up the slack. And those non-parents, especially men, dare not raise a peep of objection lest they be dubbed sexist, which can hurt their career.
• Women's advocacy groups also were successful in pressuring the government to create The Family and Medical Leave Act*, which allows employees to--usually with minimal verification of need--take up to 12 weeks every year(!) to care for a relative, with a guarantee that their job will be held for them until they choose to return. (Women take the majority of FMLA days.) Now those advocacy groups are pressuring employers to make FMLA days-off paid days.
• For parents (again, disproportionately women) who wish to take years off to raise their offspring, many corporations have established on-ramps to help them get their career back despite having lost their technical and Rolodex's currency, and now often being less committed to work than are their non-parent coworkers.

Notice how nasty the text got in that section? Notice the sly reference to "shopping" as the activity women might prefer to the hard task of taking advance courses! A particularly odd argument given that Nemko began with the female dominance in education. And finally, have a look at how angry he feels at those horrible parents who return to the labor force despite having lost their skills and their commitment!

It's a Catch-22 for women. No, they can't have parental leaves or on-site daycare. And no, they can't come back after taking time off to care for children in other ways. All these policies amount to a bias against men!

I don't know about you but this was the part in my reading where I thought that the Atlantic Monthly must have gone crazy to let this guy in through the door. He's not just opposed to what he calls affirmative action for women. He's opposed to anything at all that might let them ever leave the house, and he assumes that any policies which help workers with children are policies which only benefit women. Presumably men do not have children or families in his world.

I wonder what would be required for Nemko not to regard the US economy as biased against men. The forceful removal of all women from paid employment?

At this point in my reading the article the wind was out of my sails. Nemko is just too, too weird. For example he wants men who work long hours to be called not workaholics but heroic. By whom? Presumably by their wives or someone dependent on them for money. But I don't quite see why the term "heroic" should be applied to total strangers just because they work long hours. How is not doing that an economic bias against men? Besides, I'm a heroic workaholic myself.

Or his rant about how much more common "Take your Daughter to Work Day" is in Google searches than "Take Your Daughter and Son to Work Day." The latter is the new form of that day, as far as I understand. The former term came about because at the time girls didn't necessarily think that they could work for money in the future, and the day was proposed as a way to change that thinking.

That particular purpose is now outdated and the change to a wider definition good. But if we are to think about what the male version of the initial "Take your Daughter to Work Day" might have been it would have been "Take your Son into the Kitchen." Because sons were expected to work outside the home and not cook or clean at home.

What's sad about Nemko's piece is that the weirdness of the article makes it hard to take any of it seriously:
The media influences how men and women are treated, and how boys perceive themselves relative to girls. Whether in commercials, sitcoms, or movies, even in non-fictional media, men are disproportionately characterized as sleazebags or doofuses shown the way by wise women. Don't believe it? Just turn on your TV. And have you not seen "Girls Rule" tee shirts? How do you think that makes boys feel?
Mmm. I fully admit that the portrayal of men in some commercials and sitcoms is awful. But so is the portrayal of women in much of the media. Tits, tight skirts and so on. Add music videos and Internet pron to that and it's hard to see how women could come out as winners in this game.

The reference to the "Girls Rule" t-shirts is just silly. I have never seen anyone wearing one and I wouldn't like to see one worn, either. But I did recently pass a car with (roughly) this bumper sticker: "Anything that bleeds five days a month and doesn't die must be rotten." Didn't make me feel good to pass the parked car. And no, I did not key it.

I wish that this piece would have been replaced by one which would have actually looked at the reasons why men's average real earnings in the United States are declining among those men who do not have college education.

The main reason is in the loss of well-paying blue-collar jobs due to outsourcing and the globalization of many heavy industries. These disappearing jobs are in male-dominated industries, whereas the new jobs that might replace them are in lower-paying service industries. Many of those have been traditionally female, though there's no barrier to entry for men who wish to enter them. Still, the changes have been tough for certain groups of men and have not received sufficient attention from the powers that be.

I wish Nemko had written about that or the deeper reasons behind the lower percentage of men in college and how to fix these problems. But he chose to go the zero-sum gender wars route where anything that hurts women is good for men and anything that is good for women must hurt men.
*I have now been informed that there will be such a post.

The Problem of Uppity Nuns

The Catholic Church is gonna fix that problem. It's the next important topic on their to-do list:
A Vatican investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an umbrella group representing 80 percent of Catholic sisters and nuns in the United States, found serious theological errors in statements by members, widespread dissent on the church’s teaching on sexuality and “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” a church report released Wednesday stated.
The church appointed Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle to oversee “reform” of the women’s organization.
NETWORK, a Washington, DC lobbying group founded by Catholic sisters in 1971 was singled out as “silent on the right to life”; the organization’s head said the group was not consulted during the inquiry. She said that its focus on poverty, immigration and health care stems from its founding mission.
“I think we scare them,” Sr. Simone Campbell, a lawyer who serves as the executive director of the lobby said of the church’s male hierarchy.
No comment necessary, really.

But I'm adding one a bit later because the NYT article on the same topic has additional information:
The Vatican has appointed an American bishop to rein in the largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns in the United States, saying that an investigation found that the group had “serious doctrinal problems.”
The Vatican’s assessment, issued on Wednesday, said that members of the group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, had challenged church teaching on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and promoted “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”
The sisters were also reprimanded for making public statements that “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.” During the debate over the health care overhaul in 2010, American bishops came out in opposition to the health plan, but dozens of sisters, many of whom belong to the Leadership Conference, signed a statement supporting it — support that provided crucial cover for the Obama administration in the battle over health care.

The bishop appointed to reign in the uppity women religious is a man because women cannot be priests. But note that one must also be male to be allowed to be "an authentic teacher of faith and morals."

It is most unfortunate that all this parallels traditional male authority as the only genuine one. Not a random coincidence, of course, but an intended one.

Indeed, the metaphoric value of all this is quite considerable, especially as it comes so soon after the statement by the church on birth control.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

After A Very Serious Post. Or on t-shirts

I'm exhausted, knackered, too pooped to pucker and so on. So this post will be about my love/hate relationship to t-shirts. Hate them new. They are hard, cardboardy, trying to stand on me even when I sit, and they are hardly ever available in that deep forest green I want.

Love them old. They become second skin, and any stupid writing they may have once had has long since faded into oblivion. And so have the too bright colors I don't care for. They may be cotton but in their old age they become silk, fiber for the roalty. And me.

Then they fall apart, and we are back into that hate-cycle of the love-hate drama.

What I need is someone to pre-wear t-shirts for me for, say, five years.

T-shirts with messages on other people somewhat worry me. I always feel the wearers expect a reaction. But what is the proper reaction to a really insulting t-shirt? A quick takedown and boot to the head?

Right now I wear a t-shirt which states "Never believe anything I say." But I don't wear that when I go where other people are.

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle: Deep Thoughts About Parenting

Hilary Rosen's comment about Ann Romney and the resulting brouhaha may be emotionally exciting (or angering) to engage in but ultimately not very enlightening. They set stay-at-home-mothers (SAHMs) against mothers in the labor force, they point out that poor mothers on welfare are supposed to go out to work, even though otherwise staying at home with one's children is the most valuable work there is.

But however valuable work child care is (and it is) it is terrible in pay and in benefits (never mind this story, funny money does not count). Women who do it for their own children end up taking a financial punishment for doing so and women who do it for other people's children are among the lowest-paid workers in this country.

Then there's the feminist-bashing arguments. Feminists hate SAHMs! So much that being a feminist who wishes to be one is a daring move. And the truly nasty arguments you find if you dig in the bottom mud of comments threads attached to these pieces: Mothers who stay at home are lazy bon-bon eating golddiggers! Mothers who work are selfish careerists who mistreat their children! Women who don't have children are the worst of the lot because they have refused to carry out their god-sanctioned and biologically determined role in life!

It's all fun and games. But it doesn't bring us one step forward, for several reasons. The most important is that every woman gets equally threatened in these conversations by what are viewed as her "choices." The stories are linkbait for that very reason: Imagine all those shaking fingers typing on all those keyboards, all those gritted teeth, all those churning stomachs, all that unfocused anger!

Add to that mix the very patriarchal commenters who come in to tell women how to mother and feathers will fly.

So let's take a few long steps backwards and look at the very innermost layers of this parenting onion. Forget about the current debacle, forget about your place in this guilt-scenario. Indeed, even forget the planet we are on.

Instead, suspend your judgment and imagine another planet where creatures very much like us have created civilizations. They differ from us in one aspect, however, and that is how they procreate. Suppose that they work that bit out like frogs, that they leave tadpoles behind in ponds and that the children born that way are then quickly filled with all necessary information by some high-tech procedure.

In such a world neither sex would have to be in charge of long years of child care. What would such a society look like, in terms of gender equality? My guess is that it would look pretty close to equal.

Spend some time with that thought. You might ask yourself what would happen if that society decided, for some reason known only to themselves, to meddle with their reproductive system and to change it into something resembling ours, requiring years of hands-on care by at least one adult.

Would they choose one sex to do all the hands-on child-rearing? And if they did, what would that extra obligation mean to that sex's societal equality? How would sex roles change? What beliefs would be created about the proper life roles of male and female parents?

These musings can be enlightening. They lead to several obvious questions, the most important one being the question which underpins everything here:

Is it possible to have hands-on childcare shared by both mothers and fathers, in fairly equal amounts or is it never going to be that way?

This is the crucial feminist question on parenting.

What we have, right now in the United States, is a system where most people believe that it is the mothers who are ultimately responsible for the hands-on care of children.

Some believe that this is a managerial role, that she can delegate the actual care to either other relatives or to paid caregivers but that she is still the one responsible for all the scheduling and the overall performance of the arrangement. Others believe that only the mother herself should do the caring. The latter means, naturally, that she cannot be in the labor force while carrying out those duties. Very few people seem to believe that the managerial role should be shared by both parents (even on the left side of the political aisle), and voices arguing for a wider solution ("it takes a village") exist but get no political traction. Hence the miserable maternity leave and lack of accessible daycare in this country.

Return to our imaginary society, after the genetic manipulation, and assume that now the female adults of that species are responsible for child-rearing, either because they were genetically manipulated to want that role or because the society decided on that for some other reason, such as them now breast-feeding the babies. Assume, moreover, that the society decides not to help the female adults in that task in any other way except by decreeing that the fathers of any children should give her bed and board while she is raising children.

How would a mother in that society look back at the history of her planet, at the roles of the past? Would she be content with the changes and the obvious costs to her? How would her male partner view the situation? And what would the society do, to ensure the reproduction of the next generation under these conditions? What myths would be created, what arrangements would come about, what laws would crop up?

The answer is probably unfathomable and would depend on how strongly the female parents would wish to undertake the task they have been assigned and on other power-related questions in the society. But it's hard to see how such a society could have political or economic gender equality, without very conscious changes to ensure just that.

And those required changes are few on our planet or in this country. Hence the question I bolded above.

If, one day, fathers participate in hands-on childcare in roughly equal numbers or at least as a sizable minority, then gender loses much of its discriminatory power. Employers would no longer try to shy away from promoting women just because they might quit soon, to stay at home with children. Men would be equally likely to do that, you see. There would be more women among the political decision-makers because women who wanted such a task could do so by marrying a man who was more focused on the family. And, perhaps most importantly, questions about how to cope with children would have stopped being questions that only have to do with women.

Is this trend feasible? I don't know but that is my hope, not only because it would decrease gender discrimination in the labor markets and even out the earnings differences between men and women but also because it would offer a more balanced and emotionally richer life for all. Ultimately.

Current feminist economic and social activism makes sense if it is based on that implicit assumption about the future. But if this trend is not going to happen, the kind of feminist activism we need is quite different, consisting of attempts to get salaries and retirement benefits for SAHPs, of affirmative action for parents who return to labor force after taking care of children, of fights against seniority and work experience as a basis for promotions (when they are not equally available for both fathers and mothers) and possibly of political quotas for mothers. Continuing to fight for better and affordable daycare would continue but it would remain a women's issue.

These have been deep thoughts on parenting, not in their wisdom but in the depths I have plunged here. It makes sense to drill into the very center of the gender onion. It even lets me, at least, get a better handle on the question why the mommy wars rage so very easily: Parenting is seen as what "mothers" do, "mothers" are seen as an undifferentiated mass from the undifferentiated mass of "women", taking care of spoonfuls from the undifferentiated mass of "children" there is only One Correct Way To Mother And If Your Way Differs From Mine Then One Of Us Is Wrong.

And fathers are invisible elephants in the room.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Happy Pay Equality Day!

I still recommend my gender gap series (available at the website shown at the top of this blog. The empirical data in it is a bit old by now but the arguments are as fresh as ever.

Bryce has written a nice piece on seven steps which would reduce the gender gap in earnings. The first:
1. End salary secrecy. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, about half of all workers are either prohibited or strongly discouraged from talking about how much they make with their colleagues. And it’s pretty hard to sue an employer for pay discrimination without first figuring out what everyone else rakes in. So, easy task: just force all employers, public and private, to let anyone talk freely about how much they make. Americans should quickly get over their queasiness about discussing money, and employers shouldn’t care if their lower paid employees start salivating over six-figure salaries.

I can't help noticing that out of that list of seven FOUR steps (3, 4, 5 and partially 7) are directly linked to the fact that women do most of hands-on child-rearing. If that societal chore was equally divided, those steps would no longer matter for gender equality in earnings*.

This does NOT mean that women "choose" to earn less, in the sense of choosing chocolate ice-cream over vanilla, say. What it means is that policies about parental leaves and childcare are essential if one wants to fix the gender gap. Changing expectations about the role of mothers, fathers and others are also necessary.
*Gender segregation would not completely disappear but it would be greatly reduced because women would no longer need to pick occupations on the basis of how flexible they are for temporary exits and re-entries or how long the working days are. These are among the reasons which make women choose occupations where knowledge does not depreciate fast or where the expected hours of work are not above eighty hours per week. Occupations which offer the necessary flexibility also offer, on average, less pay.

And Here We Go Again: Mainstream Media Covers Feminism!

From here.

It's the Katie Roiphe piece I discuss below but made a thousand times worse. This, my sweet readers, is how "women's issues" are covered in the mainstream media, how one gets the cover photograph! A double-whammy, too, because both "working women" and "feminists" get properly bashed there.

I'm not sure what the Newsweek sexist editors think being a "working woman" involves, given the recent Ann Romney kerfuffle, but it appears that homemakers are absolved of any naughty reading material! Probably staying at home turns a girl into a dominatrix who waits with the whip for the hubby to come home after work.

Or something similar. It's hard for me to write anything sillier than the actual article. I do hope that Newsweek dies a quick death soon. Any magazine which thinks that attacking the majority of women is a good policy should die.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey

A thought experiment: Suppose that a murky e-book about women as sexual dominatrices became a best-seller among female readers. How would such a thing be written up in the mainstream media?

That it really IS the End Of Men? That civilization is dying? That the sky is falling? That the most feared scenario of the misogynists is becoming reality: A world where women reverse patriarchy and force men to experience what it feels like to be at the receiving end?

No such book has been written, of course, so you don't see those takes. But I bet you anything that they would have been the takes.

Instead, there's an equally murky book about women as sexual submissives (Fifty Shades of Grey) and, oh boy, aren't we going to hear about its success among women! Not only as a poorly written soft-pron book aimed at the female market but as An Indicator Of How Women Wish To Submit In Life. To men. Katie Roiphe's voice will be heard on that topic, as it has been in the past heard on the topic of how there is no date-rape and how feminists hate babies.

She is what is called a contrarian in a society where contrarianism, when applied to gender, amounts to supporting the existing unequal gender roles.

But Roiphe was late at the starting line. Maureen Dowd managed to sneak a story in faster, with an actual interview of a dominatrix! As the source of what percentage of women might be sexual submissives! I love the careful research in these kinds of pieces, I do. And the point is ultimately always whether women really want to be equal with men or not.

We have had these discussions many times before. Indeed, they are cyclical, like periods. They are not much based on actual evidence. Katie Roiphe, for instance, appears to accept the End Of Men bullshit and seems to equate the popularity of a certain book among women of certain demographic characteristics as indicating that most women are sexual masochists, perhaps even masochists in all aspects of their lives.

Yet actual data doesn't support any kind of End Of Men and data about women's (and men's) sexual desires is very hard to come by. It's even harder to deduce which aspects of those desires are created by our life experiences* (and thus affected by the societal norms) and which aspects are somehow innate.

But the biggest misuse of the mostly nonexistent data is the one Roiphe makes, to draw conclusions about women's societal role aspirations and the popularity of one SM book. Sexually submissive men can be bosses in large firms, perhaps even presidents of countries, for instance, and those who like this book may consist of mostly sexual submissives, not of some general cross-section of women. (Or of men. I have no idea whether we know who the readers are.)

I get how irresistible this story is to the mainstream media. It has everything! Support of patriarchal views and kinky sex! And it doesn't look at the mirror side at all. Even though the man in the book appears to be a sexual sadist and the woman just goes along with his desires, we get no careful discussions to place his sexual sadism into a wider societal context as something perhaps caused by his diminished dominance in other parts of life. Indeed, the mirror side in these stories has no reflection at all!

The data that would be needed for Roiphe's thesis (which appears to be that sexual submissiveness increases in women as their equality increases) doesn't exist because we don't have good historical data on what roles people preferred in sex in the past. But I'm skeptical of that claim, myself.

What's most interesting in these kinds of stories (the pseudo-trends about women not wanting equality or not wanting the high costs of equality) is how very visible their construction is. There's never any real attempt to research a question, but anecdotes, fiction or movies are used in its place. When the pseudo-trend turns out to be pseudo, nobody cares because by then we are busy with the next pseudo-trend.
*Just one quick example: If you are taught that you are a slut or a whore (which is a bad thing) whenever you express any active interest in sex, how will you reconcile that with desire? Perhaps by adopting a passive role in your sexual dreams because then you are not a slut/whore but still get the hot sex?

Feel-Good News From The UK

About a week ago the UK Guardian wrote about a surge in feminist groups in that country:
"I just don't think I should have to look at that – it's degrading," said 17-year-old Isabella Woolford Diaz. "If people want to buy it, fine, but I don't think 11-year-old pupils should have to look at it."
Deciding to take the matter into her own hands, the student formed a feminist group at Camden school for girls, and before long a core group of 15 teenagers – boys and girls – were attending. "I was getting so frustrated at how women were portrayed and I wondered if I was just being pernickety," she said. "But I soon realised it wasn't just me."
The group is one of dozens of new feminist organisations springing up around the UK, according to the campaign group UK Feminista. Research carried out to mark the group's second birthday has revealed that the number of active grassroots feminist organisations has doubled in the past two years.
These are feminists who do not fit easily into stereotypical moulds: young and old, men and women, urbanites and country dwellers. A new breed of feminists is starting to rise up.
"It's a really exciting time. We are seeing a real resurgence in feminist activism that is moving from the margins to the mainstream," said Kat Banyard, founder of UK Feminista and author of The Equality Illusion. "People are willing to put up their hand and say they are a feminist without the fear of being ridiculed. Particularly in the past 12 months, we are seeing people standing up and willing to be counted." Like the Camden group's members, many of them are young, passionate and unafraid to take direct action.

I have no way of judging how real such an increase might be but it is certainly needed. Without a fairly loud voice the mainstream media mostly publicizes anti-feminist and anti-woman shit, as you may have noticed, and marginalizes feminists as those weird very rare creatures with braided armpit hair and ugly faces.

And yes, knowing that one is not alone is of crucial importance in any kind of activism.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hahah! You've Gotta Read This: On Only Ugly Women Seeking Careers

And you gotta do it AFTER reading my three posts on the study, in order: first, second and third. Promise me.

Then read this popularization:
A controversial study has concluded that the real reason women pursue careers is because they fear they are too unattractive to get married.
The research team, made up of three women and two men, said when men were scarce, "women are more likely to choose briefcase over baby".
Research has suggested the real reason women pursue careers is because they fear not finding a husband. 

And the plainer a woman is, they claim, the more she is driven to succeed in the workplace.
Central to their argument was the idea that women have evolved to become homemakers and men the providers.

This is such a marvelous example of how the bad type of research on women is popularized and made even worse, how the ideas and arguments are sprayed into the slime of society, and how, after a while, what this study supposedly states has become not perhaps common wisdom but at least yet another weapon in the artillery of anti-feminists and misogynists everywhere.

But I do love the juxtaposition! Here I go, in red-hot rage, writing careful and dull prose after careful and exhausting research, and here goes that paper, tralala, making it all into something much worse!

This, my friends, is something you should keep in mind when you read popularizations of research on women. It may be an extreme example but not that extreme.
Added later: I really have to point out that whatever the flaws of the study, it never argued that women have "evolved to become homemakers!" Given that the view of homemaking as women's proper role is most likely something that was created in the nineteenth century Europe and US, and only applied to middle-class women's lives, such an "evolution" would have been difficult to carry out!