Tag Archives: women’s rights

Grassley’s Inadvertent Revelation

In the introduction to her important book The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander admitted that, even as an ACLU lawyer, she had always been skeptical of claims that the war on drugs was intentionally crafted to target blacks. She’d recognized its discriminatory effects, of course, but only when she did her “deep dive” into the research did she recognize the extent to which drug policy was a product of intentional racism.

In much the same way, I have always discounted rhetoric about a “war on women.”Of course I recognize that cultural changes empowering women make a lot of men uncomfortable; I certainly notice (and object to) the arrogance of male legislators who are unwilling to allow women the same autonomy over our lives and bodies that they claim for themselves. And it has always been hard to ignore the prevalence of come-ons from the various boors and outright sexual predators. But I’ve also known and appreciated the large number of “good guys” who welcome culture change, respect women’s autonomy and understand and observe sexual boundaries.

I still think the individual “jerk quotient” of some men shouldn’t be used to label the entire gender. But I no longer dismiss the notion that a number of men are indeed waging a “war on women,” and I no longer underestimate the prevalence of misogyny, especially in the GOP.

This, for example, was infuriating. The Wall Street Journal reported that, during a conversation with its reporters, Senator Grassley was asked why the Republican Party has never put a single woman on the Judiciary committee. His response: women don’t want to  do that much work.

Really, Senator Grassley? How do you explain the fact that Democratic women serve on the committee, and seem to be handling the work? Is it just Republican women who are lazy? Or is it–as Amanda Marcotte suggests in Salon–that misogyny is at the very heart of your right-wing politics?

It’s long been frowned upon to acknowledge this fundamental truth: Misogyny is at the heart of right-wing politics. Pointing out that hatred of women and a desire to keep them under the boot is an animating force of Republican politics is sure to draw pained expressions from many liberal men, certain that the feminists are being hysterical again. Surely feminists don’t think it’s quite as simple as that, right? Surely we understand that anti-abortion views are about a sincere belief that life begins at conception and anyway, Republicans aren’t serious when they say they’re going to ban abortion. That’s just something they say to rile up the rubes, to trick them into voting for the real agenda, which is about economics and taxes. Certainly you women can’t think you are important enough that oppressing you is a major priority for Republicans, right?

Marcotte marshals her evidence: the party’s ongoing support of a President who boasted of grabbing women’s genitals and who has paid several women to keep quiet about his behaviors;  its support for Kavanaugh, despite credible accusations of sexual assault; and especially the tone-deaf, belittling and revealing responses to women’s protests by Grassley and others.

I want to make it clear we’re not going to be intimidated by these people,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said of the protesters“Harassing members at their homes, crowding the halls with people acting horribly, the effort to humiliate us really helped me unify my conference,” McConnell told the New York Times. “So I want to thank these clowns for all the help they provided.”

“When you grow up, I’ll be glad to [speak to you],” Sen. Orrin Hatch snapped at a group of protesters, equating grown women with children who need a scolding.

“You needed to go to the cops,” Sen. Lindsey Graham told another protester when she confronted him about her own history of rape, implying that he —  with no information about her situation — understood her options better than she did.

Sen. Ben Sasse dismissed the protests by women against Kavanaugh as “hysteria” three times during the original confirmation hearing, when the focus was primarily on reproductive rights and before sexual assault became an issue.

Donald Trump, of course, is screeching on Twitter about how the protesters are “paid” and funded by “Soros,” because it is impossible for him imagine that women might actually have minds of their own.

Wonder why there’s a gender gap? I think I can clue you in.

 

We Aren’t Going Back

Friday night, I spoke at a local synagogue about women’s rights. They were very nice to me. Here’s my talk. (Apologies for the length.)

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I don’t know how many of you remember when it was considered tactful to refer to older women as “women of a certain age.” I’m one of those women, having attained and then passed that “certain age,” and I’ve seen a significant evolution in women’s rights in my own lifetime. Not too long ago, someone asked me if I had experienced discrimination because I’m a woman. I responded that I’ve really been lucky; I’ve been able to do pretty much anything I wanted to do. But when I began to think about it, I realized that my entire life has played out against the restrictive laws and patriarchal social expectations of the times. A number of options that were available to males simply weren’t options for me. As noted, some of those options were legally unavailable, but many other limitations were products of prevailing, deeply-rooted social attitudes. To the extent women accepted those attitudes, we didn’t see discrimination—we just saw “the way things are.”

My mother—who was born the year women finally got the vote–didn’t work, although she was a woman who would definitely have been much happier pursuing a career. But for middle-class women, participation in the workforce was seen as evidence that one’s husband  wasn’t an adequate breadwinner—so it wasn’t an option.

When my sister and I were in grade school and high school, there were no women’s sports. Girls were cheerleaders, boys played team sports. When I went to college, my parents wanted me to choose a profession I could “fall back on” if my eventual husband died. I could choose among the three professions suitable for women—I could be a teacher, a nurse or a secretary. Three times in college, I switched into the school of Liberal Arts, and three times my father switched me back into the School of Education. (I get nauseated at the sight of blood, and I was never a good typist—so voila—I was a teacher!).

When I got married the first time, women still couldn’t get credit or establish a credit rating separate from that of their husbands. Later, when I went to law school, my sister’s brother-in-law told me I should be ashamed that I was taking the place of a man who would actually practice law. A cousin who was a lawyer was more supportive; he told me that if I really excelled, I would probably get hired, but the only lawyer job I could expect would be in the “back room” of a large firm, doing research. I wouldn’t be allowed to work directly with clients. A “friend” told me that my selfish decision to go to law school meant that my children would end up being drug addicts.

When I was interviewing for my first job as a lawyer, the EEOC was only a few years old, but lawyers at the firm knew that certain questions were off-limits. I had three small children, a fact disclosed by my resume, so I volunteered my childcare arrangements. (It seemed reasonable.) One of the lawyers was so visibly relieved that I evidently wasn’t going to burn a bra then and there that he blurted out “Not that there’s anything wrong with being a woman! We hired a man with a glass eye once!”

When Bill Hudnut appointed me Corporation Counsel, I was the first woman to head the city’s legal department. That deviation from the norm evidently triggered a lot of speculation. The Indianapolis Star identified me as a “divorcee” and the Indianapolis News ran a “gossip” item, asking “Did a city official just appoint his most recent honey to a high city position?” Evidently, the notion that a woman might be a good lawyer never crossed their minds.

When I ran for Congress in 1980, I was told by a number of people that they wouldn’t vote for a woman with young children, because my place was at home with those children. (I don’t need to remind you that men with young children are never the subject of similar sentiments—nor do I need to share my strong suspicion that they wouldn’t have voted for any woman, with or without small children.) When I joined a small law firm after losing that election, one of the partners suggested that I stick to wills and divorces, which were areas deemed appropriate for women lawyers. That actually represented progress, since by that time there were at least some limited areas in which it was acceptable for women to be lawyers …

Virtually all of these examples seem ridiculous today, when girls excel at sports and law school classes are more than 50% female. So there has been progress—actually, a lot of progress.  I am always bemused when female students assure me that they aren’t feminists—a word that some of them evidently associate with beefy women who don’t shave their legs.  The young women who don’t think of themselves as feminists simply take for granted that they will get equal pay for equal work, that they won’t have to “put out” for the boss in order to get that promotion, that they can choose the number and spacing of their children, and that there might even be a pediatrician whose office hours don’t reflect the assumption that mom is home all day.

As the commercial says, we really have “come a long way, baby.” But as the “me too” movement, the persistence of the glass ceiling, and depressing statistics about earning discrepancies all attest, we still have a long way to go.

And that long way to go was before the hard-won gains for women’s equality came under sustained attack. At the Women’s March, an elderly woman carried a sign saying “I can’t believe I’m still having to protest this shit.” A lot of us old broads feel that way.

The unremitting attacks on Planned Parenthood are particularly troubling, because women owe an enormous amount of our progress to the availability of reliable birth control. Only when we are able to plan our families, only when we are able to be more than baby factories, is it even possible to talk about having both a family and a career. Once women were in control of their reproduction, they entered the labor market in huge numbers, and became less economically dependent upon their husbands. A woman with a decent job could leave an abusive or unfulfilling relationship and support herself. Economic independence is the first step toward equal treatment, and the ability to decide for ourselves the number and spacing of our children is what makes economic independence possible.

That independence is also what has triggered the backlash we are experiencing from insecure men and especially from the Christian fundamentalists who believe that God made women to be submissive to men. Let me be very clear: there are sincere and admirable people who have principled objections to abortion—but anyone who believes that the anti-Choice movement and the assaults on Planned Parenthood are really about abortion is naïve. The real focus of this attack is on access to birth control and self-determination. It is an effort to deny the equal moral status of women. Let me share just one illustrative example—there are many, many others.

In 2009, the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation donated over $23 million to the Colorado Family Planning Initiative. That was a five-year experimental program offering low-income teenage girls in the state long-acting reversible contraceptives—IUDs or hormonal implants—at no cost. These devices, which require no further action once inserted and remain effective for years, are by far the best method of birth control available, with less than a 1 percent failure rate. (The failure rate for the Pill is higher.) One reason more women don’t use these devices is cost: While they save the patient money over time, the up-front price can be as high as $1,200.

The results were staggering: a 40 percent decline in teen births, and a 34 percent decline in teen abortions. And for every dollar spent on the program, the state saved $5.85 in short-term Medicaid costs, in addition to other cost reductions and the enormous social benefit of freeing low-income teens from unwanted pregnancies and what too often follows: dropping out of school, unready motherhood, and poverty.

When the original grant ran out, the state legislature had to decide whether to continue funding the program. Now, you would think continued funding for so successful a program would be uncontroversial–but you would be wrong. The bill continuing funding for the program passed the Democrat-controlled House, but the Senate Republicans killed it.

And what were the highly principled reasons for refusing to continue a program that reduced teen pregnancies, reduced the number of abortions, and saved money? According to one Republican State Senator, using an IUD could mean “stopping a small child from implanting.”

Another said, “We’d be allowing a lot of young ladies to go out there and look for love in all the wrong places.”

If these lawmakers were really “pro-life,” they would support programs that substantially and demonstrably reduce the incidence of abortion. As the travesty in Colorado clearly shows, however, their real objective is to deprive women of self-determination. If necessary, at taxpayer expense.

A full list of the ongoing assaults on birth control and reproductive rights, from the Hobby Lobby decision to   Mike Pence’s effort to require funerals for miscarried fetuses to the constant efforts of state legislators around the country to outdo each other’s transvaginal probes and other punitive measures would take hours. Just in Indiana, the ACLU is currently challenging at least three anti-choice laws. I want to believe that what we are seeing is a last convulsion of old men who are frantic to retain their male privilege…but the jury is still out.

The ferocity of the pushback against women’s autonomy and reproductive rights is particularly dangerous to those of us in the Jewish community, because it represents the belief that fundamentalist Christian dogma should be the law of the land—that government should favor the beliefs of one segment of the Christian community over the theologies of other religions and other Christians.

One reason that the United States has been hospitable to Jews—and Muslims and Sikhs and other minority religions—is that the Bill of Rights not only separates Church from State, but forbids government from making decisions that are properly left to individual citizens. As I tell my students, the Bill of Rights is essentially a list of things that government doesn’t get to decide. The American constitution and legal system are based upon respect for personal autonomy and the primacy of the individual conscience—not upon conformance with majoritarian religious beliefs. I don’t think it is an accident that so many of the “family values” politicians who seem intent upon keeping women barefoot and pregnant are also anti-Semites who insist that the United States is a Christian nation.

Opponents of measures requiring equal pay for equal work, pundits who excuse predatory sexual behavior in the workplace (or by the occupant of the Oval Office), voters who reject female candidates for public office simply because they are female, and the politicians and public figures who talk about “making America great” like in the “good old days”—want to take us back to a time when women’s voices were discounted and our aspirations ignored. They want to go back to the “good old days” when women were second-class citizens—a time when being a straight white Christian male conferred automatic social dominance.

I lived through those “good old days.” They are the days I described at the beginning of this talk. They aren’t the reality I want my granddaughters—or my grandsons—to inhabit. We all deserve better.

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Is Why We Can’t Have Rational Debates…

Of all of our arguments about politics and policy, efforts to level the playing field for women and minorities seem to evoke the most heat and the least light.

A reader recently shared with me a lengthy, rambling letter to the editor  that appeared in a publication called the Carmel Current. (Carmel, for non-Hoosiers–is a bedroom community north of Indianapolis). The female letter writer ripped into organizations like the National Organization for Women and that dreaded group of harridan warriors, the American Association of University Women, accusing them of “gender feminism” that promotes the “inequality of men.”

Among other accusations, the writer argued that calls to reduce the pay gap between men and women aren’t really calls for equity, but rather part of an effort by “gender feminists” to diminish and disadvantage men.

American women make their own choices. They are succeeding at tremendous rates, most especially compared to men. Extensive research has been done on this subject by Professor Christina Hoff Sommers, a self-declared freedom feminist who has multiple publications regarding the misguided policies of gender feminists. The bogus “wage gap” is not a real concern. However, the underachievement of the American male population is. Hoff Sommers quotes education writer Paul Whitmire and literacy expert William Brozo in her book, The War Against Boys, “The global economic race we read so much about—the marathon to produce the most educated workforce and therefore the most prosperous nation—really comes down to a calculation: Whichever nation solves these ‘boy troubles’ wins the race.”

I read a few articles by self-described “freedom feminist” Sommers years ago, when she certainly seemed less confrontational than she later became. I don’t know whether she genuinely went off the rails or decided that taking a fairly unique “libertarian feminist-against-feminism” position would raise her profile and earn her more attention, but I do know that her current diatribes are perfect examples of what is wrong with American argumentation generally.

These days, significant numbers of activists on both the left and right avoid honest discussion by creating straw men, whose arguments are much easier to triumphantly dismiss and disparage than the more considered points raised by real people.

The straw man argument is an age-old tactic in which a debater purports to address an opponent’s argument while actually attacking a position that the opponent didn’t take.

Sommers has created a “straw woman,” dubbed “gender feminist,” who is out to dominate men. The women she invents and then battles are man-haters, not really interested in equal treatment or equal pay for the same work, but in beating down the male of the species.

I’m sure if we looked hard enough, we might find some women like that, but most of us who consider ourselves feminists–and a lot who don’t use the label but believe they should be compensated fairly and not subjected to sexual harassment–are hardly the man-haters Sommer attacks. We have husbands and sons and male friends–and no interest in inverting the current distribution of privilege to diminish them. We want parity, not dominance.

Sommers is hardly the first to paint feminists as radically unfeminine and anti-male. When I was younger, feminists were the butt of jokes about women who didn’t shave their legs, or who couldn’t get a date. (The potency of those descriptions is why many women still shun the label.)

It is much easier to attack–and demolish–caricatures than to engage with the real positions of people with whom you disagree. So we see people on the right claiming that advocates of civil rights for LGBTQ folks want to persecute Christians, or that civil libertarians concerned about due process or critical of police brutality are “pro criminal.” We see people on the left dismissing every objection to a stronger social safety net, or for a different approach to taxation, as evidencing either a lack of human compassion or (in legislators)  corrupt obedience to their donors.

Arguments made by the straw man (or woman) of our imagination are, obviously, much easier to refute than the actual points being raised. But engaging in the tactic in order to avoid confronting the real-life–and invariably more complex– issues at hand is both cowardly and dishonest.

Deliberative democracy it isn’t.

 

 

 

Subtler Forms of Sexism

The #metoo movement has generated an overdue conversation about sexual harassment, hostile workplaces, and the difficulty many men and women seem to have in communicating with each other both in and out of the office.

That conversation is valuable, but we also need to recognize that some of the most pernicious ways women are getting screwed aren’t sexual.

A good friend of mine recently emailed me about an incredibly frustrating experience when she applied for a Lowe’s credit card. She and her husband are both retired. They have excellent credit–scores in the 800s. (For those of you unfamiliar with credit agency scoring, that is really good.)

When she applied for a Lowe’s credit card, however, she tells me she was denied “on the spot.”   When her husband then applied for the same credit card, he was approved on the spot.

She and her husband file joint tax returns, and own most of their assets–including a home and a vacation home– jointly. When she wrote a letter to the bank that issues Lowe’s credit card, asking for specific reasons for the denial, she was told that the reason was her lack of debt (she has none at all–unlike most Americans, she and her husband have paid everything off).

That explanation raises two obvious questions: why on earth should a lack of debt be disqualifying? and if for some bizarre reason it is, why didn’t it disqualify her husband, who is equally “debt-less”?

My friend and her husband have similar work and income histories; as retirees, they receive virtually identical social security and other retirement payments.(My friend has her own 401(k) and a pension, both of which she included on the application.) Why was he more creditworthy than she?

Unless there’s something weird she’s omitting, it certainly appears that the issuer of this credit card applies different standards to men and women. He is evidently more creditworthy because he’s a he.

My friend’s experience is infuriating, but not unusual. We sometimes forget that the idea of gender equity is relatively recent; when I went to law school, there were plenty of people–male and female–who found the idea of a woman with children working scandalous, and let me know it.  I was an adult before women could have credit ratings separate from those of our fathers or husbands.

“You’ve come a long way, baby” makes for a great cigarette ad, but it doesn’t reflect the reality that we also have a long way to go. Cultural assumptions–the man as breadwinner, the male as serious, superior and thus entitled–die hard. For generations, business and government and social institutions incorporated those cultural assumptions;  obsolete as they may be in today’s world, they persist.

Too bad we no longer have local investigative reporters. A systematic research project focusing on the degree to which women are still not treated equally by the businesses that invite our patronage would make a fascinating series.

If any of my friends from the Kelly School are reading this, I’d love to hear a business school perspective on this!

Monetizing Motherhood

As long as we’re on the subject of women…

Some countries have social policies that make it less stressful to combine motherhood and career. Not the good old US of A.

In the absence of benefits like widespread maternity leave and accessible and affordable day care, American women who want to combine careers and motherhood are making “interesting” choices.

About two dozen women ate cheese and canapés in a swanky Midtown Manhattan building in early December. It could have been mistaken for a networking event if it weren’t for the women’s singular focus – egg freezing.

Formally called “oocyte cryopreservation”, egg freezing has boomed over the last decade. Since 2009, there has been an 11-fold increase in the number of women who choose to “bank” their eggs. During that time, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine officially removed its “experimental” designation.

“It’s a conversation more women need to talk about, just like miscarriages and periods,” said Florence Ng, a 35-year-old real estate broker in New York City who froze her eggs this year. “These are really important and relevant today.”

Now, Wall Street is taking notice of the fertility industry. Analysts see it as one “ripe for a merger and acquisition cycle”, according to one group.

As the article notes, a new breed of fertility clinic is selling a promise: that capitalism and technology can buy women time. And this being the good old US of A, where government provides very little in the way of a social infrastructure, “entrepreneurs” see dollar signs in career women’s dilemma.

“The US Fertility Clinic market has come of age and is ripe for a merger and acquisition cycle,” wrote Capstone Partners, an investment banking firm, in early 2017.

“The wave is already beginning,” the firm wrote, ticking off a raft of private equity and venture capital firms that recently purchased clinics: TA Associates, MTS Health Partners, Lee Equity Partners, TPG Biotech, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Extend Fertility is partially owned by a hedge fund called North Peak Capital LLC.

“The trend for couples to marry later in life and to delay starting a family in pursuit of professional careers and financial security is also boosting demand for fertility services and accelerating industry growth,” wrote Capstone.

Men, of course, can make new sperm throughout their lives; we women are born with all of our eggs. If we use them to make babies in our 20s, most of those eggs will be good. But as we age, we’ll not only have fewer eggs, but a higher proportion them will be abnormal. By our mid-40s, most fertility doctors believe it will require donor eggs to get pregnant.

Egg freezing, once reserved for cancer patients, is increasingly sold as the solution to this problem…

Women are encouraged to freeze their eggs as young as possible – in their 20s preferably – to ensure the largest number are viable.

“Freeze your eggs!” said one Extend Fertility ad on Instagram. “Take control of your biological future – freeze your eggs and freeze time”. Extend pitches testimonials from women who have already frozen their eggs as “masters of time”.

Is this really the way we want Americans to address the issue of women in the workforce? Do we really want to make motherhood a consumer item, convenient only for those who can afford the blessings of technology? What about women who have “jobs” rather than careers, and cannot afford pricey egg freezing? What about women who prefer to have children while they are relatively young, rather than waiting until they are mistaken for their child’s grandmother–if they can conceive at all?

Other countries provide well-baby clinics, maternity supports, child care and other social supports that allow women to participate in the economy while providing for their children.

What does the lack of support for working mothers say about the value Americans place on women and children?