Msnowe's Blog

Terrible Triumvirate

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on April 28, 2010

Three states, three new laws/amendments.

Oklahoma. And here.

Utah.

Nebraska.

Summary:

In Oklahoma, women are now required to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a “detailed description” of the fetus before getting an abortion. That description doesn’t have limits–it could be anything from a description of the physical nature of the fetus to a story about how it might grow up to be the next Tim Tebow.  In Utah, even though the original bill has been toned down, it still declares that in some instances, women can be charged with a felony for a miscarriage. In Nebraska, the government has set limits on late-term abortions which aren’t that extraordinary, however, the reason cited for the limits is the first of its kind and utterly indefensible–it cites “fetal pain” as the sole reason for the limits. This is, to say the least, a scientifically controversial and unsupported-by-fact claim.

I don’t even know what to say. All these make it more and more attractive to not get pregnant in the first place. Please reflect on this (source: Jezebel):

“A new Utah law could charge women with homicide if they miscarry, making women’s rights advocates concerned that women will be brought up on murder charges for drinking, failing to wear a seatbelt, or falling down the stairs.”

Of course pregnant women should take care of their own and their fetus’s life. But this is a slippery slope of slop towards regulating all aspects of a woman’s life during her pregnancy. If this is the case, why stop here? Why not make it illegal for men to have sex (and possibly conceive said fetus you seek to protect) while under the influence of alcohol or other potentially harmful narcotics? That would at the very least cut back on unintended pregnancies. Simply because men do not have a similar biological process does not mean that a woman has to be unfairly restricted and legislated against. It was bad enough when women were restricted by anti-choice laws in order to “protect them,” but now the tide is increasingly turning towards something more like open hostility towards women and their reproductive freedom. Not only are we unable to make the right choice for ourselves and our bodies, now we are biological terrorists, bombing our own uteri. Someone stop us before we blow open the vagina doors at the embassy! And these legislators won’t stop until they can declare victory, at any cost, including the livelihood of the women they paternalistically swore to protect in the first place.

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Pretty Pretty Princely Princesses?

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on April 27, 2010

Can you be The Prince AND a Princess?

Here is a New York Times article that ran yesterday in the business section, entitled “Do Nice Gals Finish Last?” The article quickly covers many aspects of payment structures, mostly in terms of sex and relative pay. The most informative piece of the article is probably this link, which makes no assumptions as to why, but analyzes the salary data of 108 occupations and breaks down the divergence in earning power for men and women.

Because there are a fair few pages of notes and lots of charts and graphs to analyze, let’s just look at the highlights of the report:

  • Overall, the weekly median income for full-time male workers in 2009 was $819. For women, it was $657. This is a “gender” wage gap of 19.8%
  • Of the 108 occupations analyzed by gender, only 4 exist where women consistently earn more money than men (those are: “other life, physical, and social science technicians; bakers; teacher assistants; and dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers”).
  • Women earn less than men in all ten of the most common occupations held by women.
  • One of the largest gender pay gaps is for physicians and surgeons. Women in these positions earn, on average, 64% of their male peers.

This is just a sampling.  You can read on to see how deep the rabbit hole actually goes. There are many things m.snowe would like to draw your attention to in this article.

Before we get to the heavier lifting, just some light observations:

  • This article is written by a woman–a rather scholarly woman who has written many books on the intersection of gender and economics. One wonders if it would ever be written by a man.
  • The title of the article “Do Nice Gals Finish Last?” is a throwback to the staid phrase, “Do Nice Guys Finish Last?” But the original phrase is talking about finding a suitable mate, not finding salary parity among genders. Somehow, equal pay for women has to be equated to men finding a suitable sexual partner? Immediately, the social imperatives thrust upon both genders are driven to the fore, as if we could forget them for one second anyway.

So now, to the article.

First, Folbre explains that the theory of productivity and pay are not necessarily (or usually) linked for even the highest of earners in the US. Then she presents the evidence that men are still earning much more than women at the same jobs, at the same level of productivity. Then she asks the following questions:

–“Does the gender pay gap imply that women are less productive than men?”

–“Or do men reap rewards for characteristics that don’t actually increase their productive contribution?”

Since she’s already dispatched the first question by providing data on how productivity is not linked to pay, she quickly settles in to debating the second question for the rest of the article. The first important thing to remember is that this is not the only possible variable that allows men to “reap rewards” in the form of higher wages. It does not include all the other possible aspects of gender discrimination: basically anything you might find in an “old boys club” setting. But let’s disregard that for a moment.

–“Social scientists have long observed that a “Machiavellian personality” tends to enhance economic success.”

Folbre explains that what seems to be a majority of women lack this tendency towards Machiavellian business behavior, whereas more men have these personality traits. These traits include: aggressiveness, conscientiousness, and the propensity for lying, cheating and stealing. Here is the big finish:

–“One could argue that women who want to be nicer than men even if this proves costly shouldn’t complain about the gender pay gap. But one could also argue that pay differences among all individuals — as well as gaps between men and women — reflect differences in personality, preferences and principles as much as productivity.”

Folbre makes a key distinction about individual personalities, but it’s clear from the gender gap in salaries that women are somehow more prone to be “nice.” First, “being nice” is different from altruism. Second, women don’t necessarily “want” to be nice. This is a social and behavioral topic that we’ve all heard way too many times and shouldn’t have to be repeated. Women are told, from the moment of birth, to be docile, agreeable, non-confrontational, whether they like it or not. Stereotypes abound. We’re even still trying to separate out the gore, monsters, and explosions, and designate that only little boys have the right to call it their territory. Even if it was the case (which it is not) that women wanted to be “nicer” in all business situations, who is exactly at fault for that, when women were nurtured to be so?You teach a woman that she will be labeled as a heartless bitch if she veers off the path of least resistance, and then refuse to reward her equally when she plays by the rules? Sounds like the most evil form of discrimination there is–creating and nurturing in order to enslave.

And then, who is to say that the recognized “Machiavellian personality” is the best way to run businesses? Last time we checked, “lying, cheating and stealing” isn’t exactly the kind of behavior that finds itself on company mission statements. If anything, we should take some cues from the financial crisis of the past few years. One could be almost certain that the fat cats running those banks were The Princes Machiavelli would’ve been proud of.

So here’s two humble suggestions:

–Stop telling young girls to be docile and smile and nod as their brothers are allowed to throw punches.

–Reevaluate the way you evaluate business worth.

In the end, Folbre comes to a similar conclusion:

“A different question comes to my mind. Shouldn’t we try to reward nice behavior? We could start by making stronger efforts to penalize bullies and cheats.”


Further Reading:

Jezebel

BBC

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Imagining Social Confines

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on April 20, 2010

Murky bridges to cross...

m.snowe is enamored with Caleb Crain’s writing:

“Imagination, when fully indulged, takes the imaginer beyond the confines of his social identity. Faking representation is what novelists do. If a critic determines that E. M. Forster’s portraits of heterosexual love are stiff, and Henry James’s are rich, then he has discovered something about their relative skill as novelists. He hasn’t learned anything about their sexual orientations.”

–From “As If” (This post is great too.)

It’s easy to  like what he says, and how he says it. m.snowe would like to append Crain’s post by saying that the same notion of authorial skill goes for gender, not just orientation. Writing and imagination can and should take a writer beyond their sex, i.e. a man can write a believable, alive female fictional character, and so can a woman write a man.

Here is another important paragraph in Crain’s piece:

“Finally, the warfare here is asymmetrical. Generally speaking, a straight man can grow up happy and safe while in complete ignorance of what gays feel when they fall in love. For as much of his development as he is obliged to remain closeted, however, a gay man has no parallel luxury. He makes a close study of what his straight peers are doing and saying about love, so as to be able to pull off a reasonable impersonation. After coming out, a gay man may no longer have to masquerade, but he nonetheless belongs to a minority, and members of a minority are always obliged, as a matter of survival, to know the shibboleths and customs of the majority, and to have a decent working model of the majoritarian psychology so as to manage interactions with them.”

Gender warfare differs slightly from the warfare of sexual orientation. While gay men and women can make a close study of what it means to be straight and then act accordingly (of course, they shouldn’t have to, but they can), women are traditionally barred from observing men, or told that they cannot completely understand them, and men are also told they can never really understand women. Of course, we live in a man’s world, so the inability to understand or act according to “male” strictures is considered an obvious lacking.  All you have to do is look at a woman, and you are able to then judge her by some crudely false, socially engineered sexual inadequacy. The woman, in effect, has come out of the closet as such from the day of her birth (when the doctor declares: “It’s a girl!”) and she had no choice in the matter.  While women might know the “shibboleths and customs” of the power-majority (men), often-times, they are not allowed to enter into them, or are viewed too weak to do so.

This type of asymmetrical warfare argument could be used for all types of discrimination: race, class, sex, orientation, etc., so on. It’s just refreshing to read someone get it so right, and define it so crisply.

Sadly, m.snowe must now turn to a disappointing tale of a good book not living up to its full potential, for reasons partly in line with what has just been discussed above: the ability of imagination to take wing and allow an author to float above and out of the confines of his own social identity. I don’t know much about Colum McCann’s social identity, aside from the book-jacket copy and accompanying promotional pictures. But that doesn’t even matter. If he was a black gay woman, it still wouldn’t matter–m.snowe loves his way with words, but she’s finding it difficult to believe in or care about any of his female characters. They exist, seemingly, in order to define their relationships with men, the same men who have independent hopes, dreams, struggles and personal pursuits. The women are always cooing over men, or trying desperately to forget men, or driving around town with men. The men are always in the driver’s seat, unless the woman is driving alone, dejectedly, thinking about men. If the men in the novel were as women-obsessed, then at least there would be some semblance of parity. But there is not.

But,  McCann has a way with those words. Unfortunately, he can poetically pull together sentences, he just doesn’t expand that poetry out into female character development. Luckily, we can still appreciate the beauty.

Here are some awesome examples :

“We used to drive all the way up to Park Avenue just to laugh at the bleary-eyed doormen. We caught early movies in the Times Square grind houses. Two-Trouser Sister. Panty Raid. Girls on Fire. We greeted sunrises on the tar beaches of Manhattan’s rooftops.”

“Ferry whistles. The thrum of the subway. The M22 bus pulled in against the sidewalk, braked, sighed down into a pothole. A flying chocolate wrapper touched against a fire hydrant. Taxi doors slammed. Bits of trash sparred in the darkest reaches of the alleyways.”

Well, do you?

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on April 12, 2010

Do you like interesting words, arranged all awesome-like?

Do you like it when someone else reads those words to you and for you?

Do you like to leisurely sip things in cafes?

Then this guy might be able to entertain you on Thursday, April 15th, at 7:30PM at Roots and Vines Cafe.

You Learn Like a Girl

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on April 9, 2010

If they could work together...

m.snowe comes across this pitch every now and then. The story goes like this: presentation of data on how females are doing well in school, and at an increasing rate. Then the comparison with male classmates. Then the question of just what must be done to “even the scales” on how we teach both sexes, as if this debate is all about bringing educational performance rates to a 50/50 ratio. Fine. It’s great to constantly revisit anything that has to do with the way we approach pedagogy, and what works, and what decidedly fails.

Enter Nick Kristof and his Op-Ed piece for the Times on March 27. m.snowe is not wont to criticize a man who has used his weight at the NYTimes to illuminate ongoing injustices against women across the globe. But hey, if those who seem to be on our side get things wrong, they should be told, for everyone’s sake.

The first paragraph:

“Around the globe, it’s mostly girls who lack educational opportunities…Yet these days, the opposite problem has sneaked up on us: In the United States and other Western countries alike, it is mostly boys who are faltering in school.”

The first sentence is completely accurate. Traditionally, and still in many (mostly developing or third-world countries) women lack the educational opportunities of their male peers. This means that governments, social systems, and familial customs prevent females from access to education, or only provide a certain degree of education that they feel is “fitting” for women, as compared to greater opportunities available to men.

But the second sentence already reveals Kristof’s either innocently skewed or intentionally incorrect bias: The opposite of girls lacking educational opportunity is not boys “flattering” in school. The true opposite would the denial of educational opportunity for boys. Historically, females have been denied access to education, regardless of their attitude for intense study. This is diametrically opposed to being given the same opportunities and not performing on an equal level. The only thing that has categorically changed in terms of men’s education is the (hopefully) equal access given to female peers. Boys aren’t being denied any type of education based solely on their sex–they are not performing as a group in comparison to women as a group. Both groups are being provided with the same opportunities. It’s up to each individual male or female to achieve. Even if Kristof is referring to this opposite as a “gender gap” between males and females in reading skills, this initial implication of unfair advantage to women is a complete falsification.

Kristof says:

“The latest surveys show that American girls on average have roughly achieved parity with boys in math. Meanwhile, girls are well ahead of boys in verbal skills, and they just seem to try harder.”

Again–same access to educational opportunity. Women seem to “try harder“? Is he tiptoeing around implications of aptitude, and merely saying that like a woman’s ability to say, stay home and clean house, women also have a higher tolerance for mundane, uninteresting tasks? Oh, thanks. What a compliment! So, like especially “gifted” children, perhaps all men are just so advanced they can’t stand the “mundane?” Please.

m.snowe isn’t sure what Kristof wants to imply about women with that quote, but he makes his opinion clearer when he says this:

“Some educators say that one remedy may be to encourage lowbrow, adventure or even gross-out books that disproportionately appeal to boys. (I confess that I was a huge fan of the Hardy Boys, and then used them to entice my own kids into becoming avid readers as well.)

Indeed, the more books make parents flinch, the more they seem to suck boys in. A Web site, guysread.com, offers useful lists of books to coax boys into reading, and they are helpfully sorted into categories like ‘ghosts,’ ‘boxers, wrestlers, ultimate fighters,’ and ‘at least one explosion.'”

Another “disproportion,” according to Kristof: that boys inherently prefer ‘gross-out” books. While Kristoff sights actual data about educational performance at the beginning of his OpEd, he has now shifted into decidedly un-quantified territory–a scary land of gender bias.

With this statement, Kristof is making the unfair leap that boys and girls always like different things, that girls like “boring” (Kristof’s characterization) things, and boys unanimously appreciate blood, guts, and gore. Sure, some boys like that, just like some girls like Barbie dolls. But is that nature or nurture? And classroom by classroom, there are many boys who are drawn towards more traditionally “feminine” tastes, and vice-versa for females. While Kristof suggests that the Hardy Boys books are a good place to start with your sons, m.snowe can tell you she grew up devouring those stories, as well as the Hardy Boy-Nancy Drew Super Mysteries, and she’s a she.

As much as Kristof is clearly trying to help boys with his article, he is reinforcing stereotypes that ultimately restrict both gender’s ability to expand and explore during their education. Sure, make “gross out literature” more available if you want to encourage more reading for kids (of Both genders) who like that kind of stuff–because there will be boys and girls who like it. But, don’t intentionally try to steer boys to it and away from other things they might truly enjoy. Telling boys and girls what they “should” like is doubly dangerous–they will either feel stifled and constricted by their lack of choice or feel ashamed and question themselves for not liking what “they should,” and also possibly feel the need to hide their true feelings out of fear of being an outcast.

Also, one minor note that m.snowe would like to point out. The article also includes this:

“Mr. Whitmire argues that the basic problem is an increased emphasis on verbal skills, often taught in sedate ways that bore boys. ‘The world has gotten more verbal,’ he writes. ‘Boys haven’t.'”

As an important aside, it is a common misconceived notion that men speak fewer words than women in the course of their days and weeks. This has been proven false; both men and women verbalize around the same amount of words per day or week.

Has Kristof ever thought for a second that characterizing the current state of education as a segmented problem of the sexes only exacerbates the problem he thinks is at hand? His last sentence tells it all in terms of his own gender bias, and what he thinks about allowing boys and girls the option to choose for themselves what they want to like:

“If that means nurturing boys with explosions, that’s a price worth paying.”

To m.snowe, this means war. She’s ready and rarin’ to fight, explosions and all.

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Parsing Puppet Patriots

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on April 7, 2010

Sam the Eagle is a Republican. He is pompous, arrogant and he censors the other Muppets. He pretends to be cultured but also thinks that Shakespeare wrote The Sound of Music. He is hostile towards other people’s views, and most of his political logic has no grounding in fact or even common sense. He’s a character we are supposed to recognize as over-the-top, hilarious, ridiculous. But honestly, slap some feathers and a unibrow on Glenn Beck and it’s hard to differentiate. The only difference m.snowe can see is that the boundary of fiction is crossed when we observe Sam the Eagle, so we recognize the irony, the exaggerated winks at hypocrisy. Even the most hard set Republicans would be able to see Sam’s puffed up political feathers for what they are–farce, satire. m.snowe is not going to attempt to venture a guess as to why some people can’t just as easily see the same aspects of a Sam-the-Eagle character in many real-life political wonks. She just wants to talk about fictional folks who are outspokenly political.

Doing a quick scan of wikipedia’s list of fictional Republicans and the list of fictional Democrats, it’s clear that Republicans get a larger share of fictional space in television, movies and books. But it’s also clear that most of those characters are written to look ridiculous like Sam Eagle. Is this because most writers are liberal, or Democrats? Or is it something inherently fictionally appealing about creating Republican characters? Sure, some fictional Democratic characters can be amusing and slightly mislead, but they’re also often the protagonist, or at least someone we are “supposed to” have an interest in other than sheer mockery. It also reveals something else about the way we view political people, real or imagined: declaring a party comes with a set of pre-determined assumptions about an individual, no matter how true they might be. Your party’s platform becomes the base of an audience’s knowledge whether they recognize that or not. They add to or chip away at their assumptions from there.

Personally, I found the wikipedia lists incredibly weak. They must be missing fictional people. Thoughts?

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