Category Archives: Feminism

“There’s Nothing In The Constitution About That.”

Calvin Massey interviewing Justice Scalia for California Lawyer:

In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don’t think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we’ve gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both?
Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. … But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that’s fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t. Nobody ever thought that that’s what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don’t need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box. You don’t like the death penalty anymore, that’s fine. You want a right to abortion? There’s nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn’t mean you cannot prohibit it. Persuade your fellow citizens it’s a good idea and pass a law. That’s what democracy is all about. It’s not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up

Amanda Terkel at Huffington Post:

For the record, the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause states: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Marcia Greenberger, founder and co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, called the justice’s comments “shocking” and said he was essentially saying that if the government sanctions discrimination against women, the judiciary offers no recourse.

“In these comments, Justice Scalia says if Congress wants to protect laws that prohibit sex discrimination, that’s up to them,” she said. “But what if they want to pass laws that discriminate? Then he says that there’s nothing the court will do to protect women from government-sanctioned discrimination against them. And that’s a pretty shocking position to take in 2011. It’s especially shocking in light of the decades of precedents and the numbers of justices who have agreed that there is protection in the 14th Amendment against sex discrimination, and struck down many, many laws in many, many areas on the basis of that protection.”

Greenberger added that under Scalia’s doctrine, women could be legally barred from juries, paid less by the government, receive fewer benefits in the armed forces, and be excluded from state-run schools — all things that have happened in the past, before their rights to equal protection were enforced.

Ann Althouse:

HuffPo headlines: “Women Don’t Have Constitutional Protection Against Discrimination.” The writer, Amanda Terkel, quotes the 14th Amendment, and concludes, with unironic textualism: “That would seem to include protection against exactly the kind of discrimination to which Scalia referred.” Thanks for the analysis, Amanda.

Terkel also called up Marcia Greenberger, founder and co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, who professed to find Scalia’s opinion “shocking” — even though he’s been saying it for at least 15 years.

Scott Lemieux at Tapped:

Scalia has never been consistent about applying the principles expressed above. Nobody who voted for the 5th or 14th Amendments thought that they were prohibiting affirmative action, and yet Scalia has found that both amendments prohibit affirmative action in virtually all circumstances. Scalia also believes that Brown v. Board was correct, although very few of the persons who voted in favor of the proposal or ratification of the 14th Amendment believed that it prohibited racial segregation. When the originalist principles outlined above clash with (rather than reinforce) his political preferences, Scalia has no problem ignoring them.

Scalia’s answer when it comes to gender? That while the framers and ratifiers of the 14th Amendment did not think they were outlawing affirmative action or school segregation, they did think they were outlawing racial discrimination; they didn’t specifically discuss gender discrimination. The problem with this response is that Scalia’s choice to stop at this particular point on the ladder of abstraction is completely arbitrary. Scalia has already made clear in other cases that he doesn’t think that the concrete expectations of framers or ratifiers are binding. And the 15th Amendment demonstrates that the framers of the 14th could have limited the equal protection clause to racial discrimination, but they did not. So what basis does Scalia have for being certain that the 14th Amendment permits gender discrimination?

He doesn’t. Scalia’s belief that the 14th Amendment does not prohibit gender discrimination is a political choice in no way compelled by the text of the Constitution.

Jack Balkin:

Scalia argues that the fourteenth amendment was not intended to prevent sex discrimination. That’s not entirely true. The supporters of the fourteenth amendment did not think it would disturb the common law rules of coverture: under these rules women lost most of their common law rights upon marriage under the fiction that their legal identities were merged with their husbands. But these rules did not apply to single women. So in fact, the fourteenth amendment was intended to prohibit some forms of sex discrimination– discrimination in basic civil rights against single women.

Moreover, the Constitution was subsequently amended. After the nineteenth amendment, the common law coverture rules made little sense. If married women had the right to vote, why did they not have the right to contract or own property in their own names? If we read the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of civil equality in light of the Nineteenth Amendment, the guarantee of sex equality should apply to both single and married women. The conservative court during the Lochner era thought as much in a case called Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, decided immediately after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Scalia argues that if contemporary generations want to protect women, they can pass antidiscrimination laws and nothing in the original understanding of the Constitution forbids this. But this is not quite correct. The federal government would not be able to pass civil rights laws protecting women from discrimination; only states and local governments could. That is because if judges followed what the Constitution’s framers expected, federal regulatory power would be greatly constricted and, among other things, the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s ban on sex discrimination would be unconstitutional because it would beyond federal power to enact. Justice Scalia would surely vote to uphold much federal legislation today (see his concurrence in the medical marijuana case, Gonzales v. Raich), but that is because he accepts the New Deal revolution, which he well knows is not consistent with original understandings about the scope of federal power. So Scalia’s arguments about what modern majorities can do today rest on his view that a very significant proportion of constitutional understandings of the framers can simply be jettisoned because they make little sense in today’s world. That is to say, he doesn’t really believe in originalism either when it comes to a very wide array of cases concerning federal governmental power.

Second, if Scalia had really wanted to be faithful to the expectations and assumptions of the the adopters of the Fourteenth Amendment, he had no business joining the opinion in Bush v. Gore, because the Amendment was not intended to change state rules concerning the right to vote.

During the interview Justice Scalia says that he doesn’t even need to read the briefs to know what originalism permits, requires or forbids; but I would respectfully suggest he needs to read a bit more history.

Legal Insurrection:

Gee, Scalia must hate women.

Except that the headline is a good example of a half-truth.  Scalia’s point is the fairly standard originalist view that the 14th Amendment does not broadly apply to prohibit all forms of discrimination on the basis of sex.  Either sex.  It does not protect men against discrimination on the basis of sex, either.  The Supreme Court decision in Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71 (1971) is read by some as offering broad protection on the basis of sex, but that is an overreading of a fairly limited opinion in which the Court found no rational basis for a state law giving preference to males in the appointment of estate administrators.  Other cases after Reed have applied a more strict scrutiny approach.  I assume Scalia disagrees with the Reed decision, not because he doesn’t like the result, but because of the approach;  this difference in approach does not make Scalia wrong, or hostile to women as the HuffPo headline suggested.

Scalia’s view is neither novel nor new.  That the Constitution does not address discrimination on the basis of sex as such was evidenced by the ultimately failed attempt to amend the Constitution to add an Equal Rights Amendment which would have added this provision:  “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

The Blog Of Legal Times

Cat White at Scholars and Rogues:

So how important is the Constitution for protecting people’s rights? Apparently not very. Scalia goes on to say, “You don’t need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box.”

Unless you happen to be a corporation. Scalia et al continued the practice of defining corporations as persons with equal protection under the 14th Amendment (there is an article here on the history and meaning of the practice here–in short, define which “persons” are “citizens” and then grant protection to “citizens.”) Corporations are, of course, “legal persons” endowed by their creators with perpetual life and by the courts with inalienable rights by the 14th Amendment (as opposed to us “natural persons” who have limited life and apparently limited protection against discrimination by the 14th Amendment).

Apparently, “natural persons,” or at least female “natural persons” only need the protection of the laws, as Scalia said about the limits of the Constitution, “Persuade your fellow citizens it’s a good idea and pass a law. That’s what democracy is all about. It’s not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.”

So who else does not need the additional protections of equality? Perhaps workers over 40, African-Americans, gays and lesbians?

Did corporations really need to be given the rights to control our elections through donations? What’s next, the corporate right to vote? Oh, right–they’d only get one vote that way, much better to control the whole process through funding.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Feminism, The Constitution

Walmart Woes

Erik Hayden at The Atlantic with a round-up.

SCOTUSBlog:

The Supreme Court stepped into two major controversies on Monday, agreeing to sort out when a class-action lawsuit may be filed when employees are seeking back pay for alleged workplace discrimination, and to clarify whether companies claimed to be a major source of global warming can be sued under the law of nuisance.  The first issue is raised in an appeal by the discount retailer, Wal-Mart Stores; the second an appeal by four large  electric generating companies that have been sued by a group of state governments.  The cases are likely to be heard in March or April.

A federal judge in San Francisco has cleared the way for a class of at least 500,000, and perhaps as many as 1.5 million, present and former women employees of Wal-Mart to sue the huge chain over alleged sex bias throughout its 3,400 stores in the U.S.   The Court agreed to hear one issue raised by the company, and added a question of its own.  The outcome will not decide whether the company did engage in  discrimination, but only whether the lawsuit may proceed as a class-action.  Potentially, billions of dollars are at stake.

The first question will be whether, under Federal court Rule 23, a lawsuit may seek a money verdict — in this case, a claim for back pay — when the class was created under a provision that limits remedies to corrective court orders, not money.   Besides agreeing to hear that, the Court told the parties to file briefs and prepare to argue on a second question — whether the class was a proper one, under Rule 23, when it was cleared to go forward under Rule 23(b)(2).   It is unclear whether the Court, if it answered that second question in the negative, would be signaling that the class case might still proceed under a different part of Rule 23 — part (b)(3), which does allow money claims.

Wal-Mart’s petition had raised a second question that embraced the broader argument that no class should have been approved at all, since the claims made by the women employees were so disparate and so diffuse that they really had nothing in common, and that, as a result, Wal-Mart would not have been able to mount a defense to such claims.   The Court rewrote Wal-Mart’s second question, without making it clear exactly what arguments the lawyers should now be making in addition to whether a money claim could be made in this case.

Dahlia Lithwick at the XX Factor:

The six plaintiffs in the suit claim that despite the enormous size of the class, Wal-Mart’s decision-makers determine pay and promotion based on a rigid and highly centralized “strong corporate culture that includes gender stereotyping.” Their claim is that women constitute more than 70 percent of Wal-Mart’s hourly workforce but less than one-third of salaried management. They seek back pay, punitive damages, and changes to Wal-Mart’s hiring and promotions policies. Wal-Mart’s liability may be in the billions of dollars. Aside from the size of the class, Wal-Mart argues that the lower courts used the wrong standards to certify the class.

This is a high-stakes appeal that has elicited strong responses from the Chamber of Commerce on one hand, and those who worry about the need for class-action suits to protect worker rights on the other. It’s going to garner an enormous amount of interest from those who contend that big business never loses at the Roberts court and that workers can’t catch a break. It may also prove an early litmus test for whether the presence of three women at the high court will in any way shape the debate about gender discrimination.

Marcia Coyle at The Blog Of Legal Times:

The merits of the case, however, are not before the justices. Instead, the Court will focus on whether the class was properly certified.

“We welcome the Supreme Court’s limited review of the class certification decision in this case. As that decision was based on a vast body of evidence, we are confident that the decision to certify the class was sound,” said the plaintiffs’ lead co-counsel Joseph Sellers, partner in Washington’s Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, in a statement. “We believe the Court will reach the same decision after reviewing the record before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, where class certification was granted in June 2004.”

Wal-Mart has lost the class action issue four times in lower court rulings, noted Sellers.

Wal-Mart, represented by a team of lawyers from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, led by partner Theodore Boutrous, contends that the class was improperly certified, both as to its size and type. It argues that the plaintiffs, who are seeking back pay, were certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2), used for classes seeking injunctive relief and, instead, should have been required to meet the tougher standards for classes seeking damages.

In the grant of review Monday, the justices ask the parties to address whether claims for money damages can be certified under 23(b)(2) as well as whether certification under that rule was consistent with the certification requirements of Rule 23(a).

Carrie Lukas at The Corner:

It will be interesting how this plays out. Walmart claims that its employment practices “expressly bar discrimination and promote diversity,” and it is hard to imagine that the official employment practices would do the opposite. The crux of this case will likely be the outcomes of that employment system: If, on average, women have ended up earning less than men with similar job titles, that will be evidence of discrimination.

Those familiar with debates about the so-called wage gap (the difference between the earnings of the median working man and working woman) know that there are many reasons other than discrimination why women sometimes end up earning less than men do. As a report for the Department of Labor (conducted using data from the Current Population Survey) concluded:

Although additional research in this area is clearly needed, this study leads to the unambiguous conclusion that the differences in the compensation of men and women are the result of a multitude of factors and that the raw wage gap should not be used as the basis to justify corrective action. Indeed, there may be nothing to correct. The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.

It’s an important fact to keep in mind: Even if statistics show that men and women earn different amounts, discrimination isn’t necessarily to blame.

Monica Potts at Tapped:

I’m not expecting the current court to side against Wal-Mart, however. At every opportunity, the Roberts Court has expanded the rights of corporations. Moreover, as Tiku points out, the issue might even split Obama’s two appointees. Wal-Mart twice cited Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote an influential law-review note on class certification while she was a student at Harvard.

But class-action suits are important ways for a discriminated class of people to be compensated. If Wal-Mart as an institution discriminates against women, it seems perfectly reasonable that those affected stretch across the country and through the entire corporate hierarchy. Women already have a hard time seeking redress against discrimination; it’s disappointing to consider that it’s about to get even harder.

Don Suber:

For years, conservatives have called for tort reform. Legislating tort reform is difficult because so many lawyers like it (including the defense attorneys for businesses) and really the courts do not like to be told what to do.

The class-action lawsuit is the biggest paid. It always seem the lawyers get millions while the “victims” get coupons for prices off on their next purchase from the maker of the defective product.

Walmart may help end that abuse.

Leave a comment

Filed under Feminism, Supreme Court

Fabio Is Not On The Cover Of This Blog Post

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with the round-up. Horn:

The New York Times is really taken with Jonathan Franzen’s “galvanic new novel, ‘Freedom.'” Michiko Kakutani wrote a glowing review last week. Two bestselling authors, Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, are mad. They think The New York Times has a soft spot for white males. As Alison Flood reports in The Guardian, Picoult and Weiner have had a field day on Twitter, Weiner tweeting that the “NYT loves its literary darlings, who tend to be dudes w/MFAs.”

But is The New York Times (among other publications) really playing favorites? And if so, how so? Do influential outlets disdain female authors, or disdain popular fiction of any variety? Here are a variety of perspectives on the growing debate.

Alison Flood at The Guardian:

Picoult, whose popular novels of everyday people facing awful dilemmas have sold more than 12m copies worldwide but are largely overlooked by the literary establishment, was quick to respond. “NYT raved about Franzen’s new book. Is anyone shocked?” she wrote on Twitter. “Would love to see the NYT rave about authors who aren’t white male literary darlings.” For every review of authors such as Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat or the Dominican-American Pulitzer winner Junot Díaz, “there are 10 Lethems and Franzens,” she added later.

Picoult also criticised Kakutani’s use of the word “lapidary”. “Did you know what [it] meant when you read it in Kakutani’s review? I think reviewers just like to look smart,” she tweeted.

As well as Kakutani’s Franzen piece, the most recent fiction reviews in the New York Times range from a piece on Gorky Park author Martin Cruz Smith’s latest novel Three Stations to critiques of Norwegian novelist Per Petterson’s I Curse the River of Time and Suzanne Rivecca’s debut story collection Death Is Not an Option, along with shorter pieces on Ann Weisgarber’s Orange-longlisted The Personal History of Rachel DuPree and Helen Grant’s debut novel The Vanishing of Katharina Linden. Chick lit fails to make an appearance.

Contacted by blog the NYT Picker, Picoult reaffirmed her view that “the Times favours white male authors. That isn’t to say someone else might get a good review – only that if you are white and male and living in Brooklyn you have better odds, or so it seems”.

“The NYT has long made it clear that they value literary fiction and disdain commercial fiction – and they disparage it regardless of race or gender of the author,” said the author. “I’m not commenting on one specific critic or even on my own reviews (which are few and far between because I write commercial fiction). How else can the Times explain the fact that white male authors are ROUTINELY assigned reviews in both the Sunday review section AND the daily book review section (often both raves) while so many other writers go unnoticed by their critics?”

But she rejected the blog’s claim that her disgruntlement stemmed from poor reviews of her own work in the paper: in 2008 a reviewer said she had written her novel Change of Heart “on authorial autopilot”. Posting her email response to the blog online “in the effort of truth in journalism”, Picoult insisted that “nowhere in here do I criticise Ms Kakutani, rant, or suggest that my comment (which really was just that – a COMMENT) was precipitated by the fact that I don’t get rave reviews from the NYT. Just stating an opinion, as I see it, about those to whom the NYT chooses to devote inches of print”.

Her feelings were backed up by bestselling chick-lit writer Jennifer Weiner, author of In Her Shoes. “Carl Hiaasen doesn’t have to chose between getting a Times review and being a bestseller. Why should I? Oh, right. #girlparts,” she wrote on Twitter. “Books read by men – mysteries, thrillers, horror – at least maybe they’ll be noticed, whether author male or female. Books read by women – romance, chick lit, commercial fic, whatever – rarely get noticed. When they do, reviews often ignorant.”

Later, she added: “NYT loves its literary darlings, who tend to be dudes w/MFAs … In summation: NYT sexist, unfair, loves Gary Shteyngart, hates chick lit, ignores romance. And now, to go weep into my royalty statement.”

Jason Pinter at The Huffington Post:

Why do you feel that commercial fiction, or more specifically popular fiction written by women, tends to be critically overlooked?

Jennifer Weiner: I think it’s a very old and deep-seated double standard that holds that when a man writes about family and feelings, it’s literature with a capital L, but when a woman considers the same topics, it’s romance, or a beach book – in short, it’s something unworthy of a serious critic’s attention.

Jodi Picoult: I think you only have to really look at the facts. I don’t think it’s overlooked in all venues. I think the New York Times reviews overall tend to overlook popular fiction, whether you’re a man, woman, white, black, purple or pink. I think there are a lot of readers who would like to see reviews that belong in the range of commercial fiction rather than making the blanket assumption that all commercial fiction is unworthy. But it’s not universal. The Washington Post for example, back when they had their book review section, used to do the widest reviews, because there were so many kinds of fiction reviewed, not just literary fiction. That’s where my gripe comes from. When in today’s market you only have a limited review space for books, I wonder what the rationale is for the New York Times to review the same book twice, sometimes in the same week. I want to make it clear that I have absolutely nothing against Jonathan Franzen. I hope I read (“Freedom”) and love it. None of this was motivated as a critique against him or his work, just that he is someone the Times has chosen to review twice in seven days.

Have you had experiences where you’ve felt, due to either the content of your books or your gender, your books have been misrepresented or dismissed?

Weiner: The only mention my books have ever gotten from the Times have been the occasional single sentence and, if I’m lucky, a dependent clause in a Janet Maslin flyover piece: “Look! Here’s a bunch of books that have nothing in common but spring release dates and lady authors!” I don’t write literary fiction – I write books that are entertaining, but are also, I hope, well-constructed and thoughtful and funny and have things to say about men and women and families and children and life in America today. Do I think I should be getting all of the attention that Jonathan “Genius” Franzen gets? Nope. Would I like to be taken at least as seriously as a Jonathan Tropper or a Nick Hornby? Absolutely.

Picoult: Oh yeah, sure. But you know what? That’s your trade off. I think Jen Weiner was the one who tweeted the very comment that, “I’m going to weep into my royalty check”. She’s funny and honest and that’s what makes her great. There’s that unwritten schism that literary writers get all the awards and commericals writers get all the success. I don’t begrudge the label of ‘commercial writer’, because I wanted to reach as many readers as I could. I read a lot of commercial fiction and a lot of the same themes and wisdoms I find in commercial fiction are the same themes and wisdoms as what i see lauded in literary fiction.

Though the Times has devoted tremendous space to covering writers such as Jonathan Franzen and Gary Shteyngart, it has also done numerous positive pieces on thriller writer Lee Child and raved about Laura Lippman’s work. Do you feel that the reviewing plane is evening out, or do you see these as anomalies?

Weiner: The examples you cite reinforce my argument that women are still getting the short end of the stick. If you write thrillers or mysteries or horror fiction or quote-unquote speculative fiction, men might read you, and the Times might notice you. If you write chick lit, and if you’re a New Yorker, and if your book becomes the topic of pop-culture fascination, the paper might make dismissive and ignorant mention of your book. If you write romance, forget about it. You’ll be lucky if they spell your name right on the bestseller list. I think I remember seeing one review of Nora Roberts once, whereas Lee Child can count on all of his books getting reviewed. This strikes me as fundamentally unfair.

Picoult: In my personal opinion I think those are anomalies more than the norm. But again it is one person’s opinion.

Michelle Dean at The Awl:

Both Picoult and Weiner are the kind of writers who, to use Saul Bellow’s phrase, are free to stuff their ears with money if they don’t like what they’re hearing about their own books. And while I hadn’t time to look up every interview they’ve ever given, I have a hard time believing that in their heart of hearts, they envision themselves as even writing literary fiction, or at least that they aim their work at the same critical audience Franzen does. (Would Franzen’s website have as a title “Novels About Family, Relationships, and Love”?) So I think it’s overbroad to claim that they are themselves being treated differently solely as women, in this instance.

And yet, they do have a point. And it’s a point that brings us right up to the edge of the precipice of having to re-evaluate what it is we think is worthwhile about literature, and why it might not be what current standards say it is.

There are a number of levels on which one can analyze this problem of literary merit. Only the first and most superficial is markets. From that perspective, this entire discussion is little more than wankery. First of all, not a day goes by where we’re not being reminded by publishers that the collapse in transaction costs related to publishing writing (thanks in no small part to websites like this here fine publication) is absolutely destroying traditional publishing. Whatever the former gatekeepers to literary fame think, in short, is becoming more irrelevant by the day, because if they don’t like what you’re writing, you’re perfectly welcome to self-publish (or to work with a progressive change publisher) and potentially earn a higher income, proportionate to sales anyway, than you would have if you’d signed with a major publishing house, by cutting out the middleman.

Linda Holmes at NPR:

Weiner, who wrote the terrific and unexpected novel Good In Bed (which dares to suggest, among other things, that not all of a contemporary woman’s personal problems can be solved with a makeover and a diet, try to contain your shock) all the way back in 2001 and has been writing fiction about women ever since, is blown off as a “chick-lit author” here and here, and in The Atlantic, while her books aren’t exactly called “chick lit,” it has to be pointed out that they (and Picoult’s books) are “often referred to as ‘chick lit.'” (We’re not saying it’s chick lit or anything … we’re just saying SOME HAVE SAID it is chick lit, y’know.)

It’s a category we just don’t even need anymore.

I’ve written before about how much I dislike it when people don’t distinguish between popular women’s fiction and the much narrower category of shoe fiction (by which I mean fiction disproportionately focused on the acquisition of designer shoes and bags and other yabba-dabba-doo that is inevitably described in nearly pornographic detail). But at this point, I think the only solution is to stay away from the term “chick lit” as much as humanly possible, because it’s become a term that means “by and about women, and not something you need to take seriously, although we’re not necessarily saying those things are connected, so it might be a giant coincidence.”

Jennifer Weiner writes primarily about relationships between and among women. She writes about families, she writes about loss, she writes about loneliness, and she writes about a wide variety of other human emotions. The fact that she wrote a book called In Her Shoes doesn’t mean she writes primarily about shoes. (Seriously, is that where this started?) That book is about family — just like, for instance, Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You (a great book, by the way), which may or may not be a book written with greater skill, but which does not find itself assigned to a special genre as a result of being about a man, written by a man, and concerned with a man’s thoughts and feelings and complicated family and romantic relationships.

Once we’re calling Jennifer Weiner “chick lit,” I don’t know what “chick lit” is, and I don’t think I’d like the answer if I did. Most of the definitions I’ve ever known are apparently too narrow. If “chick lit” means it’s about young, independent single women looking for love (which was what I understood to be the earliest definition, when I first heard it back in the Bridget Jones era), Jennifer Weiner doesn’t qualify. If it means it’s about finding a guy in general, she doesn’t qualify. If it means the book isn’t serious, she doesn’t qualify. If it means it’s about the centrality of men to the lives of women, she doesn’t qualify, since most of the most important relationships she’s written about in her career are relationships between women (sisters, friends, mothers and daughters).

The term “chick lit,” as I mentioned today on Twitter as I was composing this entry, increasingly makes me feel like I’m being compared to a marshmallow peep just for reading books by and about women. I know what romance novels are — I read some of them, I dislike many of them. I know what shoe fiction is, in my own experience — it’s fine, but it’s not very nourishing. There are subgenres within commercial women’s fiction that are real and identifiable.

But I don’t know what “chick lit” is anymore, except books that are understood to be aimed at women, written by women, and not important. And I can’t get behind that.

Tina Jordan at Entertainment Weekly

Chris Jackson at Ta-Nehisi’s place:

Various people have chimed in agreeing with Piccoult or arguing that the Times coverage is more balanced than she claims.  Ironically, Kakutani has previously been accused of  taking special relish in pillorying white male authors. (Norman Mailer called her, in his typically subdued, politically correct style, a “one-woman kamikazee.  She disdains white male authors…she’s a token.  And deep down, she probably knows it.”  I feel dirty retyping that.)  And she recently sliced up the prototypical white male literary darling from Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem.
But this whole controversy, such as it is, reminded me of a recent lunch I had with a fellow editor.  I was going on about some novel I was reading and loving and she cut me off and asked, when was the last time you read fiction by a woman?  And I honestly couldn’t come up with anything for a few minutes.  It was a pretty shameful moment, in part, because I started wondering about early onset memory loss (I eventually remembered that I’d recently read the luminous and terribly titled Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing by Lydia Peele), but also because I’ve spent a lot of time advocating the reading of books outside of the reader’s direct experience as a way of understanding the world (through the Ringshout organization, for instance) and apparently I’ve been ignoring the literary output of half the human population.  I can’t speak to the specifics of the Piccoult/Times dispute but I can say that the frustration Piccoult expressed is shared by a lot of women (and men) who write or work in the literary world.  In my experience with by son’s namesake bookstore, it’s clear that women are willing to buy books by male writers, but men seem much more reluctant to buy books by women.  And while I’ve never seen it quantified in any way, there’s definitely a feeling out there that men–even when writing about frivolous subjects–are taken more seriously as literary writers and are more likely to be presented to serious readers by the various literary gatekeepers.
So I’ve been trying to balance my own reading–consciously trying to read at least one piece of fiction by a woman for every one I read by a man.  This sounds stupid, I know.  But what are the results of this small and recent experiment?
It’s been sort of fascinating.  After reading the well-reviewed-but-somewhat-disappointing (but still worth reading) Next by James Hynes, I read The Keep by Jennifer Egan, which was, like the Hynes, formally inventive, but also creepy and funny and knee-wobblingly suspenseful. After reading Gary Shteyngart, I just turned to a book that’s been on my queue for a while:  Chimamanda Adichie’s achingly beautiful The Thing Around Your Neck, both books about immigrants and police states and love affairs, but from two vastly different, whiplash-inducing, perspectives (BTW, check out Adichie’s fascinating TED talk, “The Danger of the Single Story” if you’re interested in the art of storytelling). Between chapters of The Book in the Renaissance, I’ve been dipping in and out of Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which is an incredible evocation of a young woman’s unruly interior, even if she was once picked up by Allen Ginsburg because he thought she was a boy.
Anyway, there are ways that our reading is shaped and limited by the biases of the dominant literary gatekeepers–maybe without realizing it, we’ve only read books by people of a certain race, or who write in a certain language, or who follow the conventions of a certain genre (including the unnamed genre of Anglo-American Serious Fiction).  To some people this is the great opportunity in the coming bookquake, the chance to disintermediate some of those gatekeepers and their peculiar, ossified biases. But the real bias may be inside of us, as readers, and we might have to force ourselves out of them to take advantage of these new opportunities.  How exciting is it to consider that there are worlds of literature out there that you may not have tapped into, undiscovered countries of books to explore that might yet tell you something new in a new way?
UPDATE: Double X at Slate

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Feminism, Mainstream, New Media

Some Television Coverage Of Their Own?

Eddie North-Hager at the University of Southern California:

Even the ESPN Ticker gives women short shrift – 96.4 percent of the information scrolling along the bottom of the screen was dedicated to men’s sports.

The finding is part of a 20-year study of sports coverage released by USC sociologist Mike Messner and Purdue University sociologist Cheryl Cooky. Though it was not surprising to discover that men’s sports gets more coverage, it was eye-opening when researchers found that women’s sports accounted for less than 2 percent of network news and ESPN’s SportsCenter.

“There’s a message that sports is still for, by and about men,” Messner said. “When will the news catch up?”

Just as surprising is that as more women than ever participate in all levels of sports, coverage of their gender is drastically declining. In 2004, network affiliates dedicated 6.3 percent to women’s sports. Last year it dropped to 1.6 percent.

“News programs are supposed to be a window to the world and there is a journalistic responsibility to reflect that,” said Messner, an expert in the sociology of sports.

In 1971, 294,000 high school girls played interscholastic sports. Today 3.1 million play, much closer to the 4.4 million boys who play high school sports.

Yet network affiliates ran 60 stories on NCAA men’s basketball in March 2009. There were no stories about women.

It’s not that ample coverage of men’s sports leaves no time for women. The researchers found that newscasts routinely air light sports features, such as a story about a hamburger with 5,000 calories and 300 grams of fat sold at a minor league baseball park in Michigan.

The discrepancy is important, Messner said, as it reinforces the stereotype that sports proves men are superior to women, that the women’s product isn’t the same quality or would not have the same mass appeal. Messner points out those arguments have been used before, such as when African Americans weren’t considered good enough to compete in Major League Baseball.

Fred Bowen at The Washington Post:

So if you love women’s sports, what can you do? First, support women’s teams and go to the games. Ask your parents and friends to go to the games. Get tickets for the Washington Mystics or the Freedom soccer team. And don’t forget all the wonderful local women’s college teams.

Second, watch women’s sports on television whenever you can. Women’s teams need all the fans they can get. Television news shows and newspapers are businesses that cover the most popular sports. In Washington, TV stations, radio shows and even KidsPost talk about the Redskins because so many people watch the games and are interested in the team.

Finally, don’t give up. Recently, I read the book “When the Game Was Ours,” about basketball legends Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Author Jackie MacMullan mentions that Game 6 of the 1980 NBA championship between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers was not on live TV. It was on tape delay late at night.

Thirty years ago, even the men’s NBA was not a big-time sport. It took years for the NBA to become so popular. Maybe with a little help, the same can happen with women’s sports.

Christina Hoff Summers at The American Enterprise Institute:

But the heavy focus of news and highlights shows on men’s sports is not only fathomable but obvious—that is where the fans are. And that is where advertisers expect to find customers for “male” products such as beer, razors, and cars. Men’s professional sports are a fascination (obsession is more like it) to many millions of men, because they offer extreme competition, performance, and heroics. Women’s professional sports, however skilled and admirable, cannot compare in Promethean drama.

Even women prefer watching male teams. Few women follow the sports pages and ESPN, but many enjoy attending live games—featuring male athletes. According to Sports Business Daily, 31 percent of the NFL’s “avid fans” are women.

Nyad and the USC study authors demand that television cover women’s sports “fairly and equitably,” but the study never once mentions the word “attendance.” Shouldn’t fan interest in the games drive the media stories? Economist Mark Perry, my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, looked at the numbers. For the 2009 season, the NBA got 92.3 percent of the total attendance for pro basketball (NBA plus WNBA), while the WNBA got only 7.7 percent of the total attendance (see chart below). But according to the USC study, the WNBA received 22.2 percent of the coverage. Perry’s conclusion: “So women’s pro basketball got a hugely disproportionate share of media coverage. Total attendance at NBA games was 12 times greater than attendance at the WNBA games, but media coverage was only 3.5 times greater for men than for women.”

Rod Dreher:

I’m not a sports fan, but it seems pretty clear to me that almost nobody wants to watch professional women’s sports. The question is why. I suppose the feminists would say that the market actually is there, if only the people who run TV sports would notice. Really? You think that people who really only want to make money, and don’t care how they do it, are turning their nose up at an opportunity to exploit an untapped market? Highly doubtful. The more interesting question is why, in a sports-crazy nation, people — even many women — only really care about male sports.

Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene:

Sports journalism has changed a lot since 1989, and contrary to what the USC study implies, anyone who wants to follow women’s sports is actually a lot better off now due to niche media that both offers coverage of practically any team one would want to follow, and helps explain why mass market programs like Sports Center and network news sports shows cover teams or athletes with niche audiences less — if you’re interested in the WNBA, you can buy a package through your cable company to get all the games, follow the season on ESPN.com, join a fantasy league, etc.

As a high school athlete, and a recreational athlete still, I’m totally behind the move to give girls an equal opportunity to benefit from college athletics, and if I have daughters one day, I’ll encourage them to play sports by installing a basketball hoop on the driveway and buying them surfboards. Upon going to college, I’ll want them to have an equal opportunity at getting an athletic scholarship. But there isn’t any reason why network news and ESPN should give equal time, or anything approaching it, to women’s sports — they should follow market demand (and when they depart from it, they should televise less golf, a sport with a tiny audience of very rich consumers).

Leave a comment

Filed under Feminism, Sports, TV

The Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani Case

Joshua Jamison:

Iran loves to kill its own people.  The country, second only to China (population being a factor), executed 388 people last year – most were hanged.  Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman convicted of adultery, has already received 99 lashes from a whip, five years in prison, and is allegedly scheduled for stoning as early as this weekend.

Ashtiani’s son has pleaded with authorities to spare his mother’s life on the grounds that there’s no evidence.  Ashtiani’s judge sited “judges knowledge” as an explanation for the sentence-a rule allowing judges to sentence without evidence.  As a last resort Ashtiani’s son reached out to the international community, in the hopes that his mother’s life will be spared.  Explain again how Sharia Law and the U.S. Constitution will coexist here in America?  Newsweek has the full story:

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, convicted of adultery in Iran, may be stoned to death unless a last-minute campaign saves her.

Human-rights campaigners say that Ashtiani, who says she was under duress when she confessed to adultery, could be buried up to her breasts and stoned to death as soon as this weekend.

Ashtiani has been in prison since May 2006, when she was convicted of adultery and sentenced to 99 lashes. Later that year she was accused of murdering her husband. Those charges were dropped, but an inquiry into the adultery charge was reopened. She was, according to The Guardian, sentenced to death under a rule that allows judges to cite “judge’s knowledge” and convict without evidence.

Ashtiani, represented by prominent human-rights lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei, has failed in her appeals. AOL reports that a panel may convene as soon as Saturday to decide her fate. According to Amnesty International, the Iranian penal code specifies that “stones are large enough to cause pain, but not so large as to kill the victim immediately.”

God Bless this poor woman, and may her life be spared.  Sharia law is nothing more than cowardly Muslim men committing horrific crimes against women, and doing so in the name of religion, law or whatever-the United States needs to reject this pathetic ‘excuse’ for a ‘set-of-laws’ and ban it forever.

Nicki Kurokawa at The Washington Examiner:

For the past several days, CNN has been documenting the case of Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani in Iran, who has been condemned to death by stoning. Fortunately, her case has caught the attention of the international human rights community – offering some hope that the sentence will not be carried out (although, to be fair, with Iran having executed 126 people this year already, there’s certainly no guarantee.)

Despite condemnation from countries around the world, stoning is still extremely widespread; Women News Network recently posted on Twitter (follow them at @womenadvocates) that the practice still exists in Nigeria, India, Nepal, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United Arab Emirates. Even the United Nations has condemned stoning – although they did recently consider Iran for a slot on their Human Rights Council, and gave them a slot on the Commission on the Status of Women – so let’s be honest, they don’t have a lot of gravitas on this issue.

However Ashtiani’s case is settled, it is important that the international community remain vigilant about both the cruel and unusual nature of the punishment and the uneven way that this “justice” is doled out.  Women in particular are singled out for this barbaric punishment – which should be of concern to feminists around the world (of all stripes). According to a (very informative) 2008 Amnesty International report:

“Women suffer a disproportionate impact of the punishment of death by stoning in Iran.

  • One reason is that they are not treated equally before the law and courts, in clear violation of international fair trial standards. …
  • Women are also particularly vulnerable to unfair trials because they are more likely than men to be illiterate and therefore more likely to sign confessions to crimes they did not commit. In addition, women from ethnic minorities are less likely to be able to speak Persian – the official language of the court – so they often do not understand what is happening to them in the legal process or even that they face death by stoning. …
  • Discrimination against women in other aspects of their lives also leaves them more susceptible to conviction for adultery. …
  • Women face strict controls on their behaviour that are imposed and policed by the state, controls that are discriminatory and restrict their right to freedom of expression and movement. …
  • Poverty, drug addiction and domestic violence also play a part in making women more vulnerable to stoning than men. …
  • Finally, the very procedure specified for carrying out executions discriminates against women. Article 102 of the Penal Code states that, during stoning, the man shall be buried in a ditch up to near his waist and the woman up to near her chest. Article 103 states that if the condemned person manages to escape from the pit, they will not be stoned again if they had been sentenced after confession, but clearly it would be harder for a woman to escape than a man, since she would have been buried more deeply.

Many of the countries that still practice stoning are eager for the prosperity (and foreign aid) that accompanies expanded relations with the world; as such, they are particularly sensitive to any international outcry that may jeopardize their standing. The Obama Administration’s efforts to reach out to the Muslim world offer an excellent opportunity for the United States to remind these nations of the priority that we as a country place on human rights – and how seriously we take violations.

Reza Aslan at Daily Beast:

News that Iran has suspended the stoning of a 43-year-old mother of two, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, for the crime of adultery certainly came as a relief. But the case has once again focused international attention on a barbaric and draconian form of punishment that, in some Muslim states, has become an effective and horrific tool of misogyny.

Stoning is a brutally precise punishment with a host of specific procedures and regulations. The convicted person is wrapped in a shroud, placed into a pit, and buried either to the waist if a man or the chest if a woman. If the adultery was proven in court by confession, the judge has the responsibility of throwing the first stone. But if the case was proven through witnesses, they start first, followed by the judge, and then by any others who are present, the number of which cannot be less than three. The stones are then hurled one by one until the accused is killed. And if the person manages to wriggle out of the pit, she or he is set free (which explains why these pits are so often little more than loosely packed holes in the ground).

The Iranian Penal Code is chillingly explicit regarding the proper stones to use. Section 119 states: “The stones for stoning to death shall not be so big that one or two of them shall kill the convict, nor shall they be so small that they may not be called ‘stones.’”

Islamic law considers adultery, or zina, to be one of six Quran-mandated offenses whose punishment is prescribed by God (the other five are false accusations of adultery, theft, robbery with violence, apostasy, and drunkenness). These are essentially a random collection of crimes whose only connection is that their punishment is mentioned somewhere in the Quran. Consequently, these “crimes” receive special treatment in Islamic law.

But the punishment for adultery in the Quran is lashes, not stoning. In fact, nowhere in the whole of the Quran is stoning prescribed for any crime—though this is a point of endless debate for legal and religious scholars.

Although zina literally means adultery, in practice it refers to any unlawful sexual act, whether adultery (illicit sex between married persons), fornication (sex between unmarried persons), sodomy, rape, or incest. However, even the simplest definition of zina can become hopelessly entangled in the complexities of Muslim sexual ethics. For instance, some legal scholars suggest that zina should not be applied in instances in which a married person is unable to enjoy his or her spouse due to legally acceptable conditions, such as prolonged travel or life imprisonment. Then there is the problematic relationship between adultery and rape in some Islamic penal codes. Rape victims can themselves be charged with adultery if they are unable to definitively prove sexual coercion. Indeed, there have been some cases in which the victims of rape, rather than the rapists, are convicted of zina and stoned to death for adultery.

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

But the worst joke of all is the United Nations. Here is a headline from April: U.N. Elects Iran to Commission on Women’s Rights.

Without fanfare, the United Nations this week elected Iran to its Commission on the Status of Women….

Just days after Iran abandoned a high-profile bid for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, it began a covert campaign to claim a seat on the Commission on the Status of Women, which is “dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women,” according to its website.

Buried 2,000 words deep in a U.N. press release distributed Wednesday on the filling of “vacancies in subsidiary bodies,” was the stark announcement: Iran, along with representatives from 10 other nations, was “elected by acclamation,” meaning that no open vote was requested or required by any member states — including the United States.

Fast-forward three months, to today’s headline: Iran human rights chief defends stoning sentence.

Andy McCarthy at NRO:

I wonder if Elena Kagan knows about Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.

Ms. Ashtiani is about to be stoned. That’s where they bury you up to your chest and hurl rocks at you until you die. The rocks can’t be too big. You see, this is real torture, religion-of-peace torture. It’s the kind that happens every day but that Democrats prefer not to talk about. With stoning (or “lapidation” as the press gently call it on those rare occasions when it is mentioned at all), the ordeal must not end too quickly. Otherwise, it might not make the right impression, as it were, on the victim — the sinner — and the community at large.

Had the solicitor general heard about Ms. Ashtiani’s plight, one imagines, she’d have told her to get herself to the nearest courthouse and seek the protection of the law. Alas, it is pursuant to the law that this barbarity will take place. The stoning of this 43-year-old mother of two has been ordered by a court in her native Iran, where the only legal code is Allah’s law, sharia. It is the Islamic sentence for adultery, the crime to which Ashtiani confessed after serial beatings by her interrogators.

During her a stint at the Clinton White House, we now know, Ms. Kagan struck the pose of a champion of women’s rights — at least if you weren’t an unborn girl. So fierce was her devotion to the cause of “reproductive freedom” that she subverted science in the service of abortion on demand — specifically, to preserve the partial-birth abortion procedure, which exceeds even stoning in its ghastliness. She then went on to Harvard Law School where, as dean, she became the champion of sharia.

Not of stoning and other grotesque penalties, of course — nothing so obviously offensive. To hear progressives tell it, we can do nice, clean, friendly sharia, just like we do nice, clean, friendly Islam. “Lapidations,” they will tell you, are no different from jihadist suicide bombings: outmoded vestiges of a long-forgotten time. Except they’re not. They are undeniably rooted inIslamic scripture, and they are happening today, with frequency, wherever sharia reigns. That is because the “moderate Islam” progressives like to banter about is a mirage in search of a cogent set of principles. There is no moderate Islam that can compete with the mainstream, sharia Islam. Thus the crimes and punishments, in all their ghoulishness, endure.

Paul Waldman at Tapped on McCarthy:

You may have heard of the heartbreaking and outrageous case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman who has been convicted of adultery (which she denies) and sentenced to death by stoning. We might want to note, as we rightly condemn this kind of brutality, that the Old Testament mandates death by stoning for a large number of crimes, including worshiping other gods, not being a virgin on your wedding night (just for the ladies, of course), disobeying your parents, failing to keep the Sabbath, and — you guessed it — adultery. Just something to keep in mind next time you run into someone who says the Bible is the inerrant word of God and the foundation on which the American system was built.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. Predictably, this case has been seized on by some conservatives to argue that liberals are on the wrong side of our war on Islam. What, you didn’t know that liberals support harsh punishments for people accused of transgressing sexual norms? Then you’re just not thinking creatively enough. Take a cue from National Review‘s Andrew McCarthy, who manages (as Adam mentioned yesterday) to argue that Elena Kagan is for all intents and purposes a supporter of this kind of vicious punishment. (Follow the logic: When Kagan was at the Harvard Law School, the university — not the law school, but the university — accepted a large donation from a Saudi prince to establish an Islamic Studies center. Therefore, Kagan is OK with the imposition of Sharia law in the United States, and therefore soft on stoning, like all Democrats. Makes perfect sense, no?) But I have to highlight this passage from McCarthy’s piece:

Ms. Ashtiani is about to be stoned. That’s where they bury you up to your chest and hurl rocks at you until you die. The rocks can’t be too big. You see, this is real torture, religion-of-peace torture. It’s the kind that happens every day but that Democrats prefer not to talk about. With stoning (or “lapidation” as the press gently call it on those rare occasions when it is mentioned at all), the ordeal must not end too quickly.

That’s a very interesting claim: The liberal media, loath to say anything that might reflect poorly on fundamentalist Islam, almost never mention stoning, and when they do, call it “lapidation.” I found that rather striking, since I had never even heard the term “lapidation.” But it couldn’t be that McCarthy is just making this up, based on his general presumption that everything the media does is bad, since they’re a bunch of liberals — could it? Fortunately, this isn’t a statement of opinion but an empirical claim, and one we can test using an obscure instrument called Lexis/Nexis.

As a first try, we’ll go with the U.S. Newspapers and Wires database. And let’s use the last five years, shall we? All right: The number of mentions of the word “stoning” in the last five years in that database was 2,558. That seems like quite a few, but if McCarthy is right, there ought to be at least five or 10 times as many mentions of “lapidation,” right?

The number of mentions of “lapidation” in the last five years was … three. So for every mention of “lapidation,” there were 852 mentions of “stoning.” Incidentally, one of those “lapidations” did come in that most hated liberal media outlet, The New York Times (it was in a book review, but still). How many times in the last five years has the Times mentioned “stoning”? It came up in 120 Times articles.

But wait — maybe it’s on television where McCarthy has seen the liberal media so often refer to stoning as lapidation, in order to make it seem less barbaric. Let’s search the Transcripts database. And the the results are: “stoning,” 2043 mentions; “lapidation,” 0 mentions. Zero.

The Hollywood Gossip:

We put nothing past Lindsay Lohan. Nothing.

That said, she did not overtly compare her legal plight to that of an Iranian woman being tragically stoned in her latest Twitter rant. But you still have to wonder.

Maybe she’s just so moved by Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who may be stoned to death for adultery, that she linked to Newsweek article to draw attention to it.

Or she’s trying to subtly draw a ridiculous parallel to herself, having been sentenced to 90 days in jail Tuesday for repeatedly, brazenly violating her probation.

Come on. Has Lindsay ever cared about anything besides herself? We’re talking about a spoiled brat who walks into court with the words “f–k u” on her nails.

Voice Of America:

A judicial official in Iran says a woman’s sentence of death by stoning is not being carried out “for the time being.”

Iran’s state-run news agency attributes the statement to the head of the Justice Department in East Azerbaijan province, Malek Azhdar Sharifi. He told the news agency that while the guilty verdict is definitive, its application has been halted by Iran’s judiciary chief due to humane considerations.

However, the provincial official said the death sentence will be carried out whenever the judiciary chief deems it expedient, regardless of what he termed Western media propaganda.

Many Western nations and human rights activists have urged Iran not to stone the woman to death.

UPDATE: BBC

2 Comments

Filed under Feminism, Middle East

Turn Your Prayer Books To Section 342, Where We Sing Of Offices Of Inclusion

Diana Furchtgott-Roth at RealClearMarkets:

What one finds when reading congressional legislation is invariably surprising. Take the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, for instance, which was created by merging Senate and House bills. When the Senate returns from recess one of its first actions will be to vote on the bill, which passed the House on June 30.

I was searching the bill for a provision about derivatives. What did I find but Section 342, which declares that race and gender employment ratios, if not quotas, must be observed by private financial institutions that do business with the government. In a major power grab, the new law inserts race and gender quotas into America’s financial industry.

In addition to this bill’s well-publicized plans to establish over a dozen new financial regulatory offices, Section 342 sets up at least 20 Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion. This has had no coverage by the news media and has large implications.

The Treasury, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the 12 Federal Reserve regional banks, the Board of Governors of the Fed, the National Credit Union Administration, the Comptroller of the Currency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau…all would get their own Office of Minority and Women Inclusion.

Each office would have its own director and staff to develop policies promoting equal employment opportunities and racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of not just the agency’s workforce, but also the workforces of its contractors and sub-contractors.

What would be the mission of this new corps of Federal monitors? The Dodd-Frank bill sets it forth succinctly and simply – all too simply. The mission, it says, is to assure “to the maximum extent possible the fair inclusion” of women and minorities, individually and through businesses they own, in the activities of the agencies, including contracting.

Andy McCarthy at The Corner:

Ms. Furchtgott-Roth goes on to point out how bedeviling the “fair” standard has proved to be. She then elaborates that Dodd-Frank

specifies that the “fair” employment test shall apply to “financial institutions, investment banking firms, mortgage banking firms, asset management firms, brokers, dealers, financial services entities, underwriters, accountants, investment consultants and providers of legal services.” That last would appear to rope in law firms working for financial entities.Contracts are defined expansively as “all contracts for business and activities of an agency, at all levels, including contracts for the issuance or guarantee of any debt, equity, or security, the sale of assets, the management of the assets of the agency, the making of equity investments by the agency, and the implementation by the agency of programs to address economic recovery.” …

With the new financial regulation law, the federal government is moving from outlawing discrimination to setting up a system of quotas. Ultimately, the only way that financial firms doing business with the government would be able to comply with the law is by showing that a certain percentage of their workforce is female or minority. The new Offices of Women and Minorities represent a major change in employment law by imposing gender and racial quotas on the financial industry. The issue deserves careful debate – rather than a few pages slipped into the financial regulation bill.

Amen. And legalities aside, Ms. Furchtgott-Roth also includes informed predictions about the inefficiencies this quota imposition is likely to produce. All of it is worth reading. This is the sort of disaster you get when legislation in the thousands of pages (to be followed, inexorably, by regulations in the tens of thousands of pages) becomes standard operating procedure.

Arnold Kling:

This is in the financial reform bill. Evidently, the financial crisis was caused by flawed human resources policies at Federal regulatory agencies. I am glad that our leaders are focused on the big picture, so that they are not distracted by little things like housing policy.

Ed Morrissey:

The media has been analyzing this bill for weeks as it moves fitfully to a floor vote.  Yet none of the reports covered Section 342, which has far-reaching impact into the capital markets and banking system.  It effectively puts affirmative action into every financial transaction and gives the government a huge opening for interfering with economic growth on the basis of bureaucratic whims.  Anyone who has dealt with an EEOC issue will understand the arbitrary interventions this will create — and the damage it will do when every contract and trade can get suspended based on a complaint or even suspicion of violation.

Anyone interested in system stability would have struck these requirements the moment they first appeared.  This is a disaster in the making, and yet another indication that Democrats want to exploit the financial collapse for their goals in social engineering.

Don Suber:

Diversity over competence. The American banking industry will soon be just as inept as the federal government and the Ivy League.

Leave a comment

Filed under Economics, Feminism, Legislation Pending, Race, The Crisis

Dad At Home, Mom At Work, Mom At Home, Dad At Work… And The Kids Play Wii All Night Long

Stan Guthrie interviews Brad Wilcox at Christianity Today on the future of families:

I think we’re going to see a continued growth of more egalitarian marriages in a large subset of the population. But we’re going to also continue to see what I call a neo-traditional model of family life. What I mean by neo-traditional is that it’s progressive in a sense that men, particularly religious men, are investing more and more—especially in the emotional arena—in their wives and children. But it’s traditional in that there’s still some kind of effort to, in a sense, mark off who is the primary breadwinner and who is the primary nurturer. That may mean that both the husband and wife are working in the outside labor force, but there’s still some effort to give the lead for breadwinning to the husband and the lead for nurturing to the wife. This kind of neo-traditional family model is here to stay. I think that prediction is somewhat at odds with what many of my colleagues in the academy would predict.

We have to think more seriously about family pluralism in the U.S. There are different models of family life in the United States, from single-parent families to more egalitarian married families to more neo-traditional married families. The first two tend to get most of the focus in the media. The third group gets less attention, but it makes up about a third of all families in the United States or more, depending upon how you describe neo-traditional. So they’re an important group. And what this research suggests is that the marriages in this neo-traditional group are happier and probably also more stable than the other forms of families in the U.S.

Annalee Newitz at IO9:

It’s unlikely that the female dominance of the working class will last very long. As Ann Friedman points out, the aspirations of job-seekers will shift with the market. Men who want a respectable working class income can certainly tackle nursing, child care, and food preparation with as much aplomb as women. What we’re likely to see over the next decade is a shift not only in how many women are part of the working class, but what kinds of jobs all working class people do.

Male nannies and nurses, in the minority now, are likely to become more common. The question is really whether female engineers will become more common too – especially since engineering jobs are among the most highly-valued in the market.

What will this mean for the future?

Jobs we think of as “pink collar” are going to become blue collar. Men will be working as nurses and housekeepers. This could be the moment when gender stereotypes really start to break down in the West. We’ve already seen images of professional women enter pop culture (and real life). Now we’re going to see images of men heroically supporting their families by working in child care. Nothing like turning child care into a source of cash to make it honorable and manly.

Perhaps a more interesting question is whether this shift will mean upward mobility for families once classified as “working class” based on their income. In 2005, 77 percent of people in the top quintile of US households had two or more incomes. That means most families in the lower quintiles have only one wage-earner – most likely, a man. With two wage-earners, many working class families will ascend into the middle or upper quintiles.

But what about families that remain in the lower quintiles, with their single income? If women are now over half the workforce, it stands to reason that many working-class families will have stay-at-home dads. Ironically, these men may be doing the very jobs for free that their wives are doing for money – child care, cooking, housekeeping, and elder care.

Reihan Salam:

I get the impression that Newitz is right. Her argument dovetails with persuasive arguments about the direction of change in U.S. marriage and childrearing patterns made by feminist historian Stephanie Coontz.

But while Newitz is definitely on to something, I tend to think that the changing shape of family pluralism in the U.S. is cause for concern. Family forms have always been diverse, Ozzie-and-Harriet was always an imperfect portrait of family life for many if not most Americans. Yet the fact that the balance is shifting even further away from two-parent households is going to stretch public resources to the limit. My guess is that intact neo-traditional families that Wilcox describes in his work will continue to yield the best outcomes with regards to educational attainment and household income and hard indicators of emotional well-being — e.g., levels of abuse, incarceration, institutionalization, etc. Of course, it is also possible that technological and cultural change will mitigate these effects.

[…]

One wonders about the mechanism we ought to use to increase financial stability. Cultural change is a delicate process. British experience suggests that increasing transfers to increase financial stability and thus promote hedonic marriage among the less affluent isn’t a terribly effective strategy. Robusteconomic growth and job growth would be vastly preferable, though that prospect has arguably dimmed — not just because of the downturn, but because of structural shifts that could lead to further reductions in overall labor force participation among prime age males, a phenomenon that long predates the downturn.

Annalee Newitz has given us much food for thought, and for that we should be grateful.

James Poulos at Ricochet:

Men without jobs find it especially hard to summon the power — and, more importantly, the authority — to lead households. Nowadays, the problem is compounded. Increasingly, we look down on menial jobs in both the labor economy and the ‘knowledge’ economy — both outside the cubicle and within it — as “jobs American’s won’t do” in the first case and as simply emasculating in the second. In poor enough economic times, that view will change. But as Reihan recognizes, the downturn isn’t the decisive issue.

I’d argue the decisive issue is cultural. If our culture or its elites instruct us that there’s nothing particularly honorable about being a father and a husband, many men will take an attitude toward work profoundly different from the one they’d take in a culture where families led by fathers and husbands are singled out for particular honors. Indeed, even in culture indifferent or hostile to bestowing that kind of special honor, men often take it upon themselves to view work differently when they work as a father and a husband, and not just as a guy.

But when theirs is a work environment hostile to the idea that the work of fathers and husbands has a special, privileged character, the cultural problem deepens. Today, many Human Resources departments — in theory and practice — strive to eliminate any rank order of honor among employees. If anything, the honored employee is the working mother. The identity of the working father and husband, by contrast, becomes something of an obstacle to the whole Human Resources program — which, by now, with its corporate retreats and group confessionals and team-building trust exercises, the whole toolkit of therapeutic maternalism, is the subject of resentful but sadly resigned ridicule.

The key to keeping families intact and keeping men at work is simple: make jobs manly again. The irony is that the key to making jobs manly again is simple, too: restore fatherhood and husbandhood to the place of cultural privilege it needs.

E.D. Kain at The League:

Newitz is making a very big leap between point A and point B – between a more empowered female population and an anti-male revolution – and I see very little to suggest that the trends she’s witnessing are anything but temporary. Sociological trends are, after all, still trends. For instance, if we had looked at divorce statistics in the 1960’s and 1970’s we might have concluded that marriage was on the way out altogether and that extremely high rates of divorce were here to stay. However, since 1990 divorce rates have steadily decreased.

There is certainly no reasons to suspect that more women will begin opting out of the workplace in the future, but nor is there any reason to believe that this will lead women to choose single-parenting families simply because they are economically capable of doing so. Modern single-mothers are often at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, so the futuristic single-income, single-parent mother Newitz describes is not of the same demographic, making comparisons difficult.

In this sense, it is hypothetically possible that women will choose to raise families without men, but only in the same way that it is possible that people will decide that not only is marriage an undesirable life decision but companionship itself is irrelevant. I find this much less plausible.

Indeed, even if we do see a future trend toward single-parenting and fatherless families by choice, I suspect we will see an even stronger social backlash to this as children who are raised without fathers grow up resistant to the idea, much as many children from divorced families grow up bitter at their parents decision to split. As divorce rates have come down, I imagine single-parenting rates will fall as well, even if marriage rates themselves do not necessarily recover.

If one considers the single-mothering trend a reaction to the traditional qua traditional family unit with the man as breadwinner and head of household and the woman as housekeeper and child-rearer, then one should also note that the neo-traditional family is a similar if less radical reaction. Neo-traditional families are also more sustainable than either very traditional or very non-traditional or single-parent families because they maintain much of what was good about traditional family roles, but couple them with higher family income, a better division of labor and more modern sexual and parenting roles.

1 Comment

Filed under Families, Feminism