Archive for February, 2011

Dear (anti-Equal Rights Amendment crusader and Eagle Forum founder) Phyllis Schlafly and (“No Bull Mom”) Suzanne Venker, co-authors of “The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know–and Men Can’t Say”,

When you write “If there’s one thing feminists love, it’s divorce,” it makes me wonder.

When you say that “Their own writings reveal that feminists sought liberation from home, husband, family, childbirth, children, and the role of full-time homemaker” do you think, perhaps, that what “they” were seeking liberation from was not these things per se, but the expectation that those things would comprise the complete script of their lives? And the freedom to pursue experiences and roles beyond those outlines?

You write that “They wanted to be independent of men and liberated from the duties of marriage and motherhood. So their first legislative goal was the adoption of easy-to-get divorce.” Um, no. “No fault” divorce in the US originated in California in 1970. The ERA was introduced to Congress for the first time in… 1923. Also, you’re conflating the practical with the philosophical. I’d argue that the most urgent, practical goal regarding unilateral divorce was empowering battered or otherwise abused women to leave without permission from their abusers; while, philosophically, the goal was to redefine marriage to make it more equal, more fulfilling.

In fact, I wonder: did you perhaps not know that Betty Friedan, pied piper of those dirty, man-hating feminists, once said that her tombstone should read: “She helped make women feel better about being women and therefore better able to freely and fully love men”?

And for all the pontificating you do about the egregiousness of the weakening of the marital bonds is, I wonder what you’d say to a feminist woman who desperately wants to get married, but can’t. Because her partner, who also desperately wants to get married, is also a woman. (Maybe a feminist, too!)

And when you answer the question “Where were conservatives when the divorce rate got out of hand?” with the flip “They were quietly raising their own families,” I suppose you’re forgetting about Newt Gingrich, Mark Sanford, Rush Limbaugh, um, Ronald Reagan?

When you say “Marriage and motherhood are not something to which young women have been taught to aspire. Instead the women in their lives tell them to focus solely on their career” I have to disagree. Witness: Disney movies; Tabloid “bump” patrols; “The Bachelor”.

When you go on to say “It’s silly to think there’s something wrong with being in the kitchen–everybody has to eat!” I have to wonder if it eludes you that, these days, pretty much everybody has to work.

Venker, you say, “In my twenties, I had what we now call a ‘starter marriage’: one that lasts less than five years and does not produce children. My ex-husband and I both had considerable doubts, and I distinctly recall our conversation, before we got married, about the fact that we could always get divorced. How pitiful is that?”

Extremely. You allowed yourself the freedom to make a mistake–and, I’m guessing you’d testify–learn from it, yet you don’t think others should be afforded the same freedom. Pitiful indeed.

You say that “feminism also taught women that men are idiots.” I think it taught women that there’s no reason to put up with a man who is an idiot.

You say that American women have never had it better. That “American women can structure their lives to accomplish anything they want.”

Is that not thanks to the work of feminism? (And, um, Schlafly, your career as a lawyer and a writer? Is that not thanks to the work of feminism??)

You say that “It is self evident that American women are the most fortunate women who ever lived and enjoy more freedoms and opportunities than are available in any other country. Armed with the right attitude, they have every opportunity for happiness and achievement. Women should stop feeling they are victims of the patriarchy, reject feminist myths, and follow the roadmap to success and happiness spelled out in Flipside.”

First: no. American women are not the most fortunate. See: the Nordic world.

And: In other words, we should ignore the fact that we are underpaid and underrepresented? That the structures of society do not reflect the reality of modern women’s lives? That, rather than strive to change the world to fit women, we should change ourselves to fit into the world that wasn’t built for us? That when we find ourselves up against a glass ceiling, a bad marriage, a lecherous boss or a weak paycheck, we should strive not to change our circumstances, but our attitudes?

Feminists do not love divorce. Or your outdated stereotypes. Or your condescending judgments. And feminists do not love you.

But you know, the careers you enjoy, the choices you have, the freedoms you have? You’re welcome.

Thanks for listening,



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Ladies, we need them.  Friends of the double-X variety, that is.  Three cases in point.

Case No. 1 brings us back to Lara Logan, the foreign correspondent who was brutally attacked and raped in Egypt, and then tsk-tsked by many observers for, you know, being there in the the first place to do her job.  Writing for both ProPublica and the New York Times, foreign correspondent Kim Barker tells us precisely why we need women in jobs like hers — and why they need to speak out.  She writes of a time when she herself was groped by several men while covering a story on the Chief Justice in Pakistan:

At the time, in June 2007, I saw this as just one of the realities of covering the news in Pakistan. I didn’t complain to my bosses. To do so would only make me seem weak. Instead, I made a joke out of it and turned the experience into a positive one: See, being a woman helped me gain access to the chief justice.

And really, I was lucky. A few gropes, a misplaced hand, an unwanted advance — those are easily dismissed. I knew other female correspondents who weren’t so lucky, those who were molested in their hotel rooms, or partly stripped by mobs. But I can’t ever remember sitting down with my female peers and talking about what had happened, except to make dark jokes, because such stories would make us seem different from the male correspondents, more vulnerable. I would never tell my bosses for fear that they might keep me at home the next time something major happened.

You caught that, right?  To complain means to be sent home.  As in:  See, girls?  This job, it’s not for you.  Barker continues:

I was hardly alone in keeping quiet. The Committee to Protect Journalists may be able to say that 44 journalists from around the world were killed last year because of their work, but the group doesn’t keep data on sexual assault and rape. Most journalists just don’t report it.

The CBS correspondent Lara Logan has broken that code of silence. She has covered some of the most dangerous stories in the world, and done a lot of brave things in her career. But her decision to go public earlier this week with her attack by a mob in Tahrir Square in Cairo was by far the bravest.

And then there’s the case of 17 former and active duty military women who have filed a class-action suit against the defense department for, according to the Washington Post:

…alleging that the military had failed to stop rapes, investigate reported crimes or prosecute perpetrators. Despite ample evidence of the problem, the suit alleges, Gates and Rumsfeld “ran institutions in which perpetrators were promoted . . . and Plaintiffs and other victims were openly subjected to retaliation.” While the suit is new, the problem of sexual assault of service members by other service members has long been known to the military leadership.

But nonetheless, kept quiet.  When women soldiers bring such stuff to light, it just verifies the outdated notion that they shouldn’t be there in the first place.

And finally, there’s the (appropriate) firestorm over last week’s House vote to deny federal funding to Planned Parenthood because they provide (whisper) abortions.  No matter that Planed Parenthood also provides a number of other health services, including contraception, for poor women who have no other access to health care.  (And no matter that while funding was denied to Planned Parenthood, funding was approved for Pentagon sponsoring of NASCAR) It took California Congresswoman Jackie Speier to stand up and courageously talk about her own “procedure” — something she says she did not take cavalierly nor did she welcome — to make the debate real.  As Amy Davidson writes on a New Yorker blog:

Is there a way to talk about the health of women and children that is about women and children’s health, and not about politics? Part of the issue is abortion, of course, as when the House voted today to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood, even for other services. (It still has to pass the Senate.) In the debate over that measure, right after Chris Smith, of New Jersey, made a graphic anti-choice speech, Jackie Speier, a California congresswoman, had her turn: “You know, I had really planned to speak about something else, but the gentleman from New Jersey has just put my stomach in knots.” She said that she had had an abortion, years ago, because of complications in a pregnancy:

I’m one of those women he spoke about just now…. That procedure that you talked about was a procedure I endured. I lost a baby. But for you to stand on this floor and to suggest, as you have, that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought is preposterous.

That was brave of her. That is also why it would be helpful to have more women in Congress: to make these discussions normal.

Our point exactly.  Whatever our jobs, we need to be part of the conversation in order to normalize it.  And to do that, we not only have to stick around — but like our sister sufragetttes, we need to multiply.

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And that’s why many people are apparently appalled.  Not necessarily because CBS foreign correspondent Lara Logan was surrounded by an angry mob in Cairo, and beaten and raped.  It was because she was taking unnecessary chances.  (Read: risk-taker)  She was doing it to advance her career (Read: ambitious).  She was daring to go where she did not belong.  (Read: brazen)

While none of the naysayers have been so brutal as to come out and say she got what she deserved, the fallout from the news of her hideous assault has been almost as ugly as the assault itself.  Here’s the background via the New York Times:

Lara Logan, the CBS News correspondent, was attacked and sexually assaulted by a mob in Cairo on Feb. 11, the day that the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced from power, the network said Tuesday.

After the mob surrounded her, Ms. Logan “suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers,” the network said in a statement. Ms. Logan is recovering at a hospital in the United States.

The evening of the attack, Ms. Logan, 39, the network’s chief foreign affairs correspondent, was covering the celebrations in Tahrir Square in central Cairo with a camera crew and an unknown number of security staff members. The CBS team was enveloped by “a dangerous element” within the crowd, CBS said, that numbered more than 200 people. That mob separated Ms. Logan from her team and then attacked her.

Heinous, right?  And yet.  Comments on talk radio and the interwebs Wednesday were cascading into blame the victim mode.  NPR, for that matter, had to take a number of comments off its site completely, and issue a plea for civility.   Meanwhile, according to Time.com,  reporter Nir Rosen, a fellow at NYU, resigned from his position at the university after he sent an ugly tweet suggesting that Logan was some kind of brazen careerist, trying to outdo CNN’s Anderson Cooper (who had been beaten in Cairo a few days before) and capped it with this:

“at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger”—a reference to his criticisms of Logan over her coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Over at Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams (we love her) took on Rosen and others, too.  (According to Williams, Rosen also tweeted this:  “It’s always wrong, that’s obvious, but I’m rolling my eyes at all the attention [Logan will] get.”  Yeah, ugh.)  She also added this, referring to yet another hater:

And the ever-heinous [right-wing blogger and Fox News regular] Debbie Schlussel was quick to jump on her regular line of racism, noting how the assault happened in a “country of savages,” because that never ever happens anywhere else, and it’s never committed by light-skinned people! She then twisted the knife by going after Logan herself, saying, “So sad, too bad, Lara. No one told her to go there. She knew the risks. And she should have known what Islam is all about. Now she knows… How fitting that Lara Logan was ‘liberated’ by Muslims in Liberation Square while she was gushing over the other part of the ‘liberation.'”

Need we go on?  Yes, lets.  Grazing on some talk radio on my morning run, I heard similarly ugly — and thinly veiled — comments that suggested Logan had put herself in danger because she was trying to play like the boys.  Among them?   “What was she doing there anyway?”  “Didn’t she know the risks?”  And the worst, from a woman who suggested that the difference between a woman who might be assaulted while simply walking though a park (Read: innocent) and Ms Logan was that Logan was doing it for work.
As in, shamelessly ambitious.  Girls, you know, aren’t supposed to do that.

But here’s the thing.  If she is shamelessly ambitious, who cares?  Are we not over that?  If she took an unnecessary risk — and nowhere does it suggest that she did — isn’t that what foreign correspondents are paid to do?  Right?  But that’s not the point.  Or at least not mine.  At the midpoint of the protests in Tahrir Square, when things started going ugly, reporters were roundly encouraged to get the hell out of Dodge.  Many stayed.  Including Anderson Cooper.  He was beaten up.

We called him a hero.

P.S.  Within minutes of posting this, we got an ugly comment suggesting that Logan got what she deserved.  We have declined to approve it.

photo credit:  CBS


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Oh, Tina Fey. How do I love thee?

In the current New Yorker, Tina Fey lays it all out there, as only she can. Work. Parenthood. Guilt. Aging. Enjoy:

The writer’s daughter recently checked out a book from the preschool library called “My Working Mom,” which depicted a witch mother who was very busy and had to fly away to a lot of meetings. The two men who wrote this book probably had the best intentions, but the topic of working moms is a tap-dance recital in a minefield. What is the rudest question you can ask a woman? “How old are you?” “What do you weigh?”

No, the worst question is: “How do you juggle it all?” The second-worst question is: “Are you going to have more kids?”

Science shows that fertility and movie offers drop off steeply for women after forty. The baby-versus-work life questions keep the writer up at night. She has observed that women, at least in comedy, are labeled “crazy” after a certain age. The writer has the suspicion that the definition of “crazy” n show business is a woman who keeps talking after no one wants to fuck her anymore. The fastest remedy for this “women are crazy” situation is for more women to become producers and hire diverse women of various ages. That is why the writer feels obligated to stay in the business, and that is why she can’t possibly take time off for a second baby, unless she does, in which case that is nobody’s business. Does the writer want to have another baby? Or does she just want to turn back time and have her daughter be a baby again? That night, as she was putting the witch book in her daughter’s backpack to be returned to school, the writer asked her, “Did you pick this book because your mommy works? Did it make you feel better about it?” Her daughter looked at her matter-of-factly and said, “Mommy, I can’t read. I thought it was a Halloween book.”

Funny, in an idiot-shivers kind of a way. First: A kids book called “My Working Mom” in which the working mom is a witch was actually published? Just… wow.

Then, of course, there’s Fey’s disturbingly pithy definition of the word crazy. (I read another interesting piece about aging while female in Hollywood this weekend here.) Sure, Hollywood–especially writers, especially comedy writers–is kind of the worst of the worst when it comes to sexist work environs, and it’s a relatively small sample. But. It’s disturbing when you consider what Hollywood writers do. They, quite literally, create the cultural myths that haunt and inspire us. And “they” are over 80% male in movie writing, 75% male in TV. Never wonder again why fat old men are consistently paired with beautiful twentysomethings.

And then, there’s the motherhood question. What will a baby mean for my career? What will another baby mean for my career? We’re often nearing a critical patch, professionally, at the very same time that our fertility takes a dive. Which leaves us with a choice–Ramp down the career?–and, often, a compromise. Questions and choices that are damn near universal for women. But for men… well, not so much. It’s like they wrote the script for corporate culture, too. Oh, wait, they did: they built it.

But, like the rest of it, the question of what’s at stake if we leave is universal. Don’t get me wrong: I realize Tina Fey is Tina Fey, and you and I are, well, not. But, whether we want to see Hollywood’s definition of “crazy” get a makeover, or our employer’s (not to mention our government’s) policies made over to accommodate the reality of working women’s lives, we have to stick around.

Just one more thing to juggle.


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So this might reveal my age, but my favorite image of Superman — other than his affinity for lycra — was the way he could fly out into space and whack the Earth with his hand to stop it from spinning.  Don’t you just wish someone could do that for reals?

I do.  Just for a day.  Nope, not even that.  Just for an hour.  Think of it.  You’re up to your ears in this, that or the other and suddenly you look at the clock and it’s 6:00.  And all you can think is what the eff happened to 5:00.  Or 4:00.  Or 3:00.   Too much to do.  Not near enough time.

Case in point.  With all apologies to the East Coast, this past weekend in Northern California, it was a balmy 70 degrees.  I know this because I could see the sunny blue sky from outside my window, and I could check the temp from my computer.    To wit, I experienced the sunshine from inside the house, grading a never-ending stack of papers.  I never made it out the front door.  And here’s the soulsuck.  Once I got caught up, there was another stack waiting to take its place.

Rinse, repeat.  And insert your job here.  Doesn’t it just make you want to get off the grid?

Life it seems can be relentless in that we’re always running to catch up.  We’re working harder and longer.  Our inboxes grow exponentially, minute by minute.  We’re breathless, as in out of breath.   Especially when we happen to be cursed with the Double X fantasy of having it all.  (Or, to refer once again to Germaine Greer:  “When we talk about women having it all, what they really have all of is the work.”)   All of which goes against everything we preach in this space — and in our book.  Live in the moment.  Savor the now.  Take the time to get to know yourself.  If you do, the decisions will come.

And yet.  Why can’t we go there?  Why don’t we say no?  To the endless obligations, the meaningless meetings.  (um, was I typing out loud?)

Because we can’t.

All of which makes me recall a conversation in class the other day.  My intro students were learning interviewing basics and I offered myself as guinea pig.  The chat turned toward Undecided and one young woman asked, toward the end of the session, whether I had any advice for women trying to make their way into high-stakes careers.  To which I answered by paraphrasing Gloria Steinem:  Don’t think about the way women should fit into the world.  Think about how the world should fit women.

And that’s the key, right?  We Double-Xers now make up at least half of the workforce, over half of the college graduates, and half of the professional school graduates.  Whether or not it’s the so-called “end of men” — who cares?   The point is that all of us — men included — are still stuck in a working world designed by and for men — the ones who have a Betty at home taking care of business.   Structures, society, and policies have not made the shift.  And yet:  who lives like that any more?

Short answer:  None of us.  Regardless of gender.  (Apparently, this is not just an American issue.  A pre-Valentine’s Day Brit study found that almost a third of those surveyed said that long hours and high workloads had caused their personal relationships to take a hit.)

And so, while I yearn for Superman to give me a couple more hours of the day, or, at the very least, try my best to spend some time off the grid, realistically, I suspect it ain’t gonna happen.  None of it.  Not until the concept of “work life balance” becomes more than euphemism for on-site daycare.   Not until we fight for some meaningful change.

And I would do that.  Really, I would.  But right now, I have this stack of papers to grade.  I would have done it sooner.  But, you know, I had a meeting.  And I couldn’t say no.


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Did ya hear? Men’s Health magazine–rag that launched a thousand Eat This, Not Thats–has birthed a feminist blog. Seriously. And I don’t mean a feminist-ish blog, I mean one who’s title leaves no question as to its raison d’etre…. it’s called “The Men’s Health Feminist.” Pretty cool, no?

Here’s a tad from reporter Kiera Aaron’s introductory post:

Feminist is a loaded term. I’m well aware of this. Expressed ever so bluntly by a male friend, ‘You’re the Men’s Health Feminist? But–you’re not a bitch. I just don’t get it.’

…If I tell you I’m feminist, what image comes to mind? Someone who doesn’t shave her legs? Someone who’s angry all the time? Who wears Doc Martens? (Okay, I might be guilty of the last one.) But why cant the term evoke an image of someone who wouldn’t appear in Girls Gone Wild for all the money in the world? Someone who would go into credit card debt before trying to obtain free dinners from random guys? Aren’t those good things?

And while the points she makes about our cultural baggage still weighing the F-word down are nothing that hasn’t been–oh, hell–that we haven’t made here, here and here already, what’s pretty clearly new and definitely exciting is the venue. Men’s Health. Let’s hope some of those healthy men read it.

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Somewhere on the way to gender equality, young women have apparently lost the ability to iron a shirt or roast a chicken.  So says a patronizing new study — titled “Male and female roles in the 21st century: breaking gender stereotypes” — by Australian social researcher Mark McCrindle.

What we learn from an exclamation-point-studded press release from McCrindle’s company is that when it comes to the tricks of the traditional housewife trade, millennial women fall short.  They are much less able than their mothers to bake a birthday cake, hem a skirt or grow a plant from a cutting.   (Insert gasp here)  On the other hand, McCrindle found that these women  are more likely to pay the bills, wash the car, or even change a lightbulb — bless their hearts — presumably, while their male counterparts are cooking dinner, stacking the dishwasher or changing their babies’ nappies.   The study also found that 61.2 percent of the men surveyed could also work magic with a steam iron.   About the testosterone shift, McCrindle tells us in his press release:

“What we are seeing is not so much a decline in ‘man skills’ but rather a change in family dynamics, reflecting that both parents are likely to have full time jobs and greater demands on their time than ever before.”

“Even though skills such as woodworking and mechanics are on the decline, men are picking up new talents such as cooking, ironing and an increased role in bringing up the kids. The advent of “Kitchen TV” in particular seems to have influenced our nation’s men, with over half the population saying men can now fire up the oven to bake a cake, or cook for a crowd at a dinner party,” McCrindle continued.

Fancy that.  As for the Millenial women:

Mark McCrindle said, “Gen Y women are sometimes disparaged as having lost the traditional skills of their mothers, yet the reality is that they are a multiskilled generation. The fact is that they are more likely to text a photo than dust a photo frame, or work with spreadsheets rather than mend bedsheets is testament to their twentieth century roles.”

Feeling patronized yet?

What’s funny in that not-really-funny-kind-of-way  is that, despite its title, the study breathlessly defines these “changing gender roles” in terms of silly gender stereotypes.  And in doing so, completely trivializes the point — if not misses it completely.    We are at a place in time when truly changing gender roles is more important than ever before.   In terms of career options, women’s roles have evolved to the point where, just like our male counterparts, we too can work 40 hour weeks that add up to 52.  We can be doctors or lawyers, bankers or brokers.  We earn more than our share of advanced degrees.  And we grow up knowing that, for most of us, work is not a choice, but a necessity.

And yet.  While all those doors are open to us, once we walk inside them, we’re faced with workplace structures designed by and for men.  (You know, the ones with the wives at home with a chicken in the oven.)  As we’ve noted in this space time and again, though we’re welcome in the building, we rarely make it upstairs to the boardroom:  Sooner or later we slam up against that maternal wall that prevents women with kids from moving forward in their careers for fear that childcare responsibilities might interfere with their performance — and women without kids are also held back because, you know, they might have them.  On the other hand, a man with kids gets to be a “family man.”  As in, all around good guy:  reliable and raise-worthy.

Meanwhile, maternity leave?  Paternity leave?  Available day care?  For most families, more pipe dream than reality.

And then comes the second shift where studies show that the household division of labor often reverts back to the days when men earned the bread and the women baked it.  So yeah, it’s sweet that men can load the dishwasher or change a diaper, but really, who cares?  If gender roles are truly going to change, it calls for a much deeper conversation on more substantive issues than chickens and nappies.  And in fact, there’s one going on now over at Role/Reboot, a new website that challenges members of the “shift generation” to employ the book club model to start talking about how to make change in a meaningful way:

Definitions of womanhood and manhood are breaking down, along with all the expectations and baggage that come with them. And for that, we’re thrilled. But we often feel like the country hasn’t really caught up – or worse, is again entering a period of woeful feminist backlash – and the realities of our lives aren’t well reflected in the media (thanks “The Bachelor” and “Bridalplasty”!) or the policy arena (Oy, where to begin…). Society is still so conflicted about women and men’s roles, and often we are too – both personally, and within our relationships. It’s a confusing moment, and like our 60s sisters, we want to talk about it.

But back to the McCrindle’s study.   Despite the fact that it’s nonsense, I must confess two points of resonance.  One, the only person (including me) who has ever used an iron in our house is my son-in-law.  And two, unlike my millennial sisters, I can cook a killer roast chicken.  If it matters, I’ll be glad to show you how.

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So, as you may or may not have gathered, Undecided loves us some Elizabeth Lesser. She’s an author and co-founder of the Omega Institute and the Women and Power Conference, and I had the pleasure of interviewing her for the book. We had a fantastic conversation about one of my favorite subjects: my belief that women and men are different–and that our differences might in fact be our strengths. Simple though it may sound, it’s a tremendously controversial topic, because for a long time, the belief (or maybe just the fear) was that, if you said women and men are different, then you were, by extension, saying one or the other is better. That’s not what I think, and that’s not what Elizabeth Lesser thinks, either. And I think what she had to say about it all makes for one of the book’s highlights.

She’s wise and she’s funny, and so I thought I’d share this clip I recently came across of a TEDTalk she gave. It’s called “Take the other to lunch,” and it’s about opening up yourself to other people (even Republicans). And I think there’s a pretty solid lesson within about self-acceptance, too. Because if we can calmly allow other people to just be who they are, no matter how it might not fit with our own ideas, maybe we can allow for that same kind of nuance within ourselves.

Check it out:

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