Posts Tagged ‘slate’

Remember Hanna Rosin?  She’s the author of last year’s controversial “End of Men” cover story in The Atlantic that suggested that because women do better in school, earn over half the college degrees, and are soaring into the professions, a matriarchy is precious minutes away.

Wednesday, she was interviewed over at Slate where, in anticipation of a Slate/Intelligence Squared U.S. debate on Sept. 20 — and possibly to pimp the publication of her upcoming book on men’s demise — she held fast to her premise that women indeed are poised to dominate.

We’ve done a bit of kvetching about her theory, which is to say: we disagree.  Sure, women may be doing better in school, but we’re still up against the pay gap and glass ceiling at work and the second shift at home.  And that’s only half the story.

What left us scratching our heads on Wednesday was the mental juxtaposition of Rosin’s end-of-men business with the national poverty stats, just released by the Census Bureau. In case you missed the memo, the numbers showed that, as of 2010, 15.1 percent of all Americans are living in poverty (defined as an income of $22,314 or less for a family of four), the highest rate since 1993.  That’s a staggering — and embarrassing — 46.2 million people, the largest number of poor Americans since estimates were first published 52 years ago.

In addition, the data showed that the poverty rate for children under 18 was 22 percent – over one-fifth of all kids in America.

Horrifying, right? But what you had to search hard to find – and probably didn’t, at least in the mainstream media — was an even more horrifying breakdown of those stats by gender. According to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center, for households headed by a single woman, the poverty rate was 31.6 percent.  For those headed by a single male, the rate was about half that: 15.8 percent. And among women who head families, 4 in 10 (40.7 percent) lived in poverty (up from 38.5 percent in 2009).

There’s more. The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund drilled down the data a little further and found the raw numbers – not to mention the way the gender gap has been ignored —  even more unsettling:

In 2010, adult woman were 29 percent more likely to be poor than adult men, with a poverty rate of 14.5% compared to a 11.2% rate for adult men. There were 17.2 million poor adult women compared to 12.6 million poor adult men.

In their analysis, they found that Census stats revealed “a deep gender gap in poverty rates, even when factors such as work experience, education, or family structure are taken into account.” For example:

* women who worked outside the home in 2010 were 22 percent more likely to be poor than men who worked outside the home, with a poverty rate of 7.7% compared to 6.3% for men.

* While education reduces the likelihood of being poor for both men and women, women are more likely to be poor than men with the same level of education. In 2010, at every education level women were again more likely to be poor than men.

* The 37.1% poverty rate for single parents in 2010 was 4.2 times the 8.8% poverty rate for married parents. However, comparing married parents with all solo parents gives a misleading impression of the significance of family structure by concealing the sharp difference in poverty rates between solo fathers and solo mothers. The 40.7% poverty rate for solo mother families was 68 percent greater than the 24.2% rate for solo father families.

We’re baffled.  How exactly does one reconcile the fact that women are more likely than men to be poor with this so called “end of men” nonsense? Rosin herself, back on Slate, concedes that the dominance of the alpha-gals she writes about is not quite all it’s cracked up to be:

The dominance of women is a good and a bad thing. If you take the non-college-educated class, for example, the women are really, really struggling. They’re holding down the jobs, they’re going to school, they’re raising the kids. One economist calls that situation “the last one holding the bag” theory. In other words, the reason that women are doing better than men is because the children are with them, and so they have to make ends meet. So they hustle in order to make ends meet, but their lives are really, really hard, and it’s terrible for the children. And the fact that about one-fifth of American men are not working—we’re almost at Great Depression levels—that’s really terrible. And it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. So, no, this isn’t like, “yay, we won! yay, we triumphed!” It’s actually really bad. 

And so we wonder. Isn’t all this chat about the “End of Men” just more backlash?  A smokescreen that keeps us from tackling deeper and more serious issues that won’t go away?  We vote yes.  Especially given the fact that the only place, outside of the classroom, where women appear to be dominating is in the poverty stats.


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… a geek?

Sister, it’s complicated.  And the choice may have more than a little bit to do with sexism, according to a new study reported on by Slate.

We’ve heard any number of reasons why women avoid math and science, but as Shankar Vedantam reports in Slate, one thing is not in dispute —  the conspicuous absence of the extra X in science and tech jobs (where, ahem, the money often is):

Less than one in five professors of science and math at top research universities in the United States is a woman. The gender distribution of engineers at top Silicon Valley companies is similar to the gender distribution of the audience at your average strip club.

Strip club?  Ouch.  The piece goes on:

Much has been written about why the number of women in science and math plummets as the intellectual demands in those fields rise with age. We’ve spent years arguing about potential differences in the brains of men and women (courtesy of the controversy spurred five years ago by [former Harvard president Lawrence Summers] former head of President Obama’s National Economic Council), the role of discrimination, and differences between men and women in the way they balance work and home life.

Most Americans believe the doors of opportunity are wide open to careers in science and math, a view that meshes perfectly with John Tierney’s recent argument that worries about sexism are a distraction. (Alison Gopnik recently critiqued Tierney’s claim in Slate.) Anyone can become a scientist or an engineer if she has the necessary interest, determination, and talent. If fewer women than men walk through those doors of opportunity, it has to be because fewer women than men have the necessary interest, determination, and talent. Fewer women than men freely choose to become scientists or engineers.

Freely?  The operative word.  We’ll go there in a minute.  But first, as we reported here last year, at least one study has shown that women avoid math and science, not because they lack the aptitude, but because they don’t feel welcome.  It’s called  social identity threats.  We also relayed a conversation with Stanford economist Myra Strober, founder of Stanford’s  Center for Research on Women back in 1972.  While emphasizing that the pay gap between men and women has to go — she’s an economist, after all —  then said this:

“Opening up and making science and engineering more interesting for women so that they go into those careers is very important.  I think you teach it in a different way.  First of all, some of these science courses are taught so competitively because they’re trying to winnow out which people are going to get good grades in medical school.  Of course, women have gone into medicine.  But I think science other than medicine, I think women are poorly represented in those fields.  And I think it behooves those fields to figure out how to make those courses more appealing to women.  And the workplace, too.”

All of which leads us back to Hamlet’s eternal question by way of that Slate piece, which reports on a new study by Jane Stout, Nilanjana Dasgupta, Matthew Hunsinger, and Melissa A. McManus, Amherst psychologists who found that that when girls and women with an aptitude for science and math nonetheless sidestep those careers, it’s often a subtle form of sexism that’s to blame.

In one part of the study, female science students were asked to take a tough math test.  They were greeted by volunteers — male or female math majors — and guess what happened?  The students who were greeted by women attempted more questions on the test than the students who were greeted by men.  In another experiment, the psychologist measured whether having male or female math professors made a difference with female students.  It did.  When the professor was female, class participation rose from 7 percent at the beginning of the semester to 46 percent by the end.  (With male professors?  It stayed the same.)  Worse, the percentage of students seeking help outside of class dropped from 12 percent at the beginning of the quarter to zero when the prof was a male.  With women profs?  The percentage rose slightly.

But most important was this:

… when Stout and Dasgupta evaluated how much the students identified with mathematics, they found that women ended up with less confidence in their mathematical abilities when their teachers were men rather than women. This happened even when women outperformed men on actual tests of math performance.

You don’t have to be a science geek to know where this is headed:  the subtle discrimination that impacts our choices.  And part of that discrimination — let’s just call it sexism — may have to do with whether or not we have role modes who look like us who make us feel that we belong.  Back to Slate:

Our reasons for feeling suited to particular professions are only partially—and perhaps tangentially—tied to our interests, determination, and talent. More than three decades ago, psychotherapists at Georgia State University studied why some women, by all objective measures bright and talented, believed they were less gifted than they were. No matter the evidence, they believed they were imposters.

To be or not to be?  You tell me.

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Clearly, we’ve been remiss in our lack of commentary on what’s been dubbed “Franzenfreude”, or the running media flap about the fact that when men write novels, we call it literature — as opposed to, you know, when women write novels, we don’t.

So let’s catch up, shall we?

Jennifer Weiner, who wrote “Good in Bed” and other books that fell under the now-dismissive rubric of “chick lit”, coined the phrase as a Twitter hashtag in a fit of pique over the advance praise Jonathan Franzen’s new book, Freedom, had garnered from literary reviewers.   It hadn’t even hit the shelves, in fact, before New York Times reviewers declared it a masterpiece.  It might well be.  But the point that Weiner and another best-selling writer, Jodi Picoult, emphasized, is that novels by women are not only unlikely to receive such rave reviews, but are less likely to be reviewed at all.

At least by, ahem, serious reviewers.  According to a piece on Slate’s Double X:

Weiner and Picoult raise the following question: Is pop fiction written by men more likely to be lifted out of the “disposable” pile, becoming the kind of cultural objects august institutions like the New York Times feel compelled to pay attention to? And are the commercial genres most commonly associated with male writers and readers—science fiction, legal thriller—more likely to be taken seriously than their female equivalents (chick lit, romance novel)? Or as Weiner puts it, would certain male writers—Nick Hornby, Jonathan Tropper, Carl Hiaasen, or David Nicholls—”be considered chick lit writers if they were girls?”

Or, as Weiner told The New Republic:

“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.”

Just to be clear, I loved Jonathan Franzen’s last book, and can’t wait to read this one.  (And, for the record, I also liked “Good in Bed”) But still, I’m pissed.  Because Weiner makes a good point about the whole double standard business — God forbid, issues that reside on the XX side of the fence like feelings or families be taken seriously — that The Nation’s Katha Pollitt picks up this week (thus giving us a newspeg) and goes deep:

Do male writers have an edge in attracting serious critical attention? This question, so urgent to women writers, so tedious to male editors and pundits, is getting its latest workout thanks to the vigorous tweeting of bestselling popular novelists Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult about the accolades heaped upon Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Freedom (two ecstatic New York Times reviews, the cover of Time and much, much more) and Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story. Weiner is a sharp and fearless observer of literary gender politics, and I think she is onto something. (I should mention that she used my collection of personal essays, Learning to Drive, to illustrate the double standard by which women autobiographers are slammed for revealing small weaknesses while men are praised as honest and bold for chronicling their addictions and wife-beating. And as long as we are on the subject, let me add that my shocked, shocked reviewers were women.) Plenty of women writers get excellent reviews, but it is very rare for them to get the kind of excited, rapturous high-cultural reception given to writers who are “white and male and living in Brooklyn” or, since Franzen lives on the Upper East Side, are named Jonathan. “Girl genius” is not a phrase in our language.

Pollitt offers a good helping of stats, courtesy of Double X (which employed some XY spread-sheet analysis) to back up her thesis.  For example:

…over the past two years 62 percent of the fiction reviewed in the New York Times had male authors, as did 72 percent of the books that got both a daily and a Sunday review.

The Atlantic, The New Republic and Slate itself review more fiction by men (if you include the reviews in the DoubleX blog, it’s 55 percent).

… A year’s worth of fiction coverage in The Nation clocked in at 75 percent male (!). Of course, it is possible that men write two-thirds of fiction or (more likely, but still improbable) two-thirds of the kinds of fiction high-end book editors assign—but those assigning decisions are themselves the product of a whole hierarchy of taste that has gender already built into it. What is a significant subject? Which writers get to ask the reader to work hard? Chris Jackson, an editor at Spiegel & Grau, for Chrissake, confessed on the Atlantic website that he hadn’t read any fiction by women in years, so he read some, and, hey, it was pretty good!

Pretty good?! Ach! That pretentious dweeb. Can’t you just feel his patronizing little pat on the head?

Thing is — and here comes the meta-message, which is why this whole discussion matters — though we’re talking about writing books here, we could probably substitute any one of a number of career areas where, when men and women do the same type of work, men tend to be taken more seriously, promoted more and paid more.   And that is the point.  And while some folks like to say that difference has a lot to do with the fact that women are more likely to take time out, or a less-than-killer job, or have their priorities elsewhere in order to raise their kids, there are studies out there that show that even when women don’t have a family — or even plan to have one — they are still seen as less promotable.  Because, well, they might.

What it’s really about is the double standard.  Families notwithstanding, we’re dismissed for being who we are.  Period, end. Which brings us back, one last time, to Franzenfreude and Pollitt:

It’s often said that women’s writing is less valued because it takes up stereotypically feminine (i.e., narrower) subjects—family, children, love and becoming a woman (ho-hum, boring!)—while men’s books deal with rousing, Important Universal topics like war, politics and whaling, and becoming a man….When men write books about family life—John Updike, Jonathan Franzen—they are read as writing about America and the Human Condition. When women write books that are ambitious, political and engaged with the big world of ideas, they are seen as stories about the emotional lives of their characters.

As in lit, so in life?  Really?  Are we still paying the price for that extra X?  I’m tempted to insert here — exactly what’s wrong with stories about the emotional lives of the characters? — but then, sigh, you might never take me seriously.

P.S.  A free copy of our book if you can correctly guess who is pictured above.


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