Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fashion, Style & Grace.... Or Lack Thereof? 

It turns out that others who read the Lisa Belkin piece on women leaving science & engineering were annoyed, as I was, by its placement in the Fashion and Style section of the Times. The issue came up on a feminist sociology listserve to which I subscribe, and one of the sociologists in question wrote to Belkin about it. Here is Belkin's reply (which, as you'll see, she invited distribution of) with emphasis added and a few reactions interspersed:

You certainly are not the first person to ask this question. And I really am touched by the number of outraged women jumping to my defense. But this really isn't a matter of big-bad-sexist New York Times so much as its a matter of how-newspapers-work and how the internet has unexpected side effects.

The "big-bad-sexist New York Times" is just a figment of your over-heated, hysterical imagination, in spite of what you might read in your rabid radical bra-burning publications. It's about "how newspapers work," which you, as a person with a PhD in sociology, couldn't possibly understand.

I write a column. It appears in the same place every other week. The general topic of the column is Life and Work (hence its title, Life's Work) and it is a good fit for Thursday Styles if you think of the word, as I do, in terms of LifeStyle (and yes, I completely agree with Trip Gabriel's description of the section in his original response to you.)

If you turn yourself inside out, and look at it cross-eyed and backwards, the way I do, there's nothing at all trivializing about the Styles section... Indeed, I just pretend that it's something that it's not, and then it doesn't seem bad at all.

The content of the column varies, but often involves the role of women in the workplace. And the location of said column doesn't change depending on the topic, and certainly no one tells me that I cant cover meaty and newsy topics because I'm in section likely read mostly by women (now THAT would be sexist...)

See, I can recognize what sexism really is. So don't you worry your silly, radical, hysterical self.

So periodically there is a bit of a disconnect. It is more jarring, I think, if you come to the column from the internet, where all you see is the section title "Fashion and Style" than if you come to it through the physical paper, where it looks very much like a column. And I do think that maybe there is a lesson for the Times to learn there, that we should find a way to place stories on the web-page by content, rather than section, in circumstances like these.
But the outrage out there whenever this has happened in the case of my particular column is interesting. Do you really think that the powers-that-be sat around and said, "oooh, this is about girls, lets put it in the girl section"? It saddens me that the conclusion jumped to so quickly by so many is that this is a disservice to women, rather than just one woman writing one article that happens to run in one spot.

Um, yeah. Maybe not in this particular case, but I do actually think that the powers-that-be very often sit around and say, "ooh, this is about girls, let's put it in the girls section." Have you noticed what happens to fiction written by women these days? It's now all marketed as "chick lit," regardless of its actual content. See again the piece in Bitch if you want to be reminded how systematic this kind of thing is. And it "saddens" her that we "jump" to these conclusions? She sounds like a classic concern troll...

By the way, I should mention that this same column ran in the Business section for nine years. I suspect (but of course have no way of measuring conclusively) that the letters I get like this one are from people whose attention I never managed to catch when I was in that very serious location.
I asked for the move to Style because it meant twice the number of words and about twice the number of readers. I figure if I am going to write about these subjects -- and I plan to do so often -- I want to reach all the people I can...

By the way, I think you're a stupid, trivial, frivilous twit who would never have read the business section of the New York Times, and since I really want a readership of stupid, trivial, frivilous twits, I switched to the Fashion and Style section... Gee, Lisa, maybe you never got letters complaining about where your column was located when it was in the business section because it was in the business section and people didn't think that was a trivializing place for articles on women and work to be.

Thanks for caring so much about this. And please feel free to distribute to your list-serve. I'd love to continue this conversation with whoever there might be interested.

Thanks for caring, but I don't really need your concern, because you see, I don't really have your silly second-wave issues, and I'm just fine here with my good buds at the NYT, who aren't the least bit sexist, ever.

I take back anything nice I said about Belkin in my previous post.

Maybe I'm just an over-sensitive, rabid, bra-burning old-school radical type (as Belkin seems to imply the readers who objected to the story's placement all are), but to me, Belkin's reply was about as dismissive as if she'd just come out and said, "settle down, now, ladies."

Fred didn't see it that way at all. He read her reply as thoughtful and respectful. Go figure.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Change the Men, You Idiots 

I'm sorry I couldn't come up with a snappier title for this post... But honestly.

Lisa Belkin had a piece in the Times* yesterday reporting on what looks like a good, new study by Sylvia Hewlitt's** organization about the attrociously sexist culture in many branches of the sciences, particularly engineering & computer science, and how it contributes to women's exits from those fields. As she notes, the proportion of women getting trained in those areas has increased substantially over the past 20 years, but women also leave in greater numbers than they do from law or investment banking.

The reasons for women's exodus that are emphasized in the article have to do entirely with the behavior of the men in these fields--men who engage in crude, locker-room humor, withhold valuable work-related information from female colleagues, and fail to act as mentors for junior women.

But when a company that desperately needs these smart, talented women decides to institute a retention program, what is the nature of that program?
The program at Johnson & Johnson, called “Crossing the Finish Line,” tutors
women in leadership skills.
It's a program to change the women, as if they're the problem. That's it--they're leaving because they don't have enough "leadership skills," not because they're being harassed, hounded, left out of the loop...

God forbid that anyone should ever try to change men.

*Note that the article is in the Fashion and Style section, for lord's sake.

**See? I'm willing to be gracious. I may ream Hewlitt for Creating a Life, but if her organization publishes something worthwhile, I'm willing to give her credit...


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Buyer's Remorse, Part II 


Related Post: Buyer's Remorse


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

NARAL Endorses Obama 

UPDATE: Following discussion with Mary and further reflection, I'm not convinced the analysis in this post is entirely right. Rather than delete or revise it, I'll just note that as to NARAL, Ann at Feministing makes a similar point, but more clearly:
...If NARAL truly believed Obama to be the superior candidate on choice, they could have made this endorsement months ago. (Such a move would have been far more damaging to Clinton.) I do have to ask, though, why NARAL chose to endorse now rather than, say, after one of the candidate has officially dropped out?

I wonder if NARAL is going to lose donor support over this move. I've gotta believe that a lot of NARAL's core donors are Clinton supporters. Also, is this a bad move in general because it's likely to be spun, in the media, as a "catfight" between pro-choice organizations? Other groups, such as the National Women's Political Caucus, have chastised NARAL's endorsement because they "believe that this announcement at this time will divide the choice community at a time when we need to stand united." Similar themes are popping up in this comment thread over at Blog for Choice.

As to Emily's List, I think I should have made my point more personal -- EL's endorsement of Clinton has made me less likely to donate to the group for this election cycle -- but I'm not sure whether other potential EL donors have reacted similarly (although a minute on Google led to an Open Left post on which at least two commenters did). I'd also note that according to Open Secrets, Emily's List has spent over 35% of it money on Hillary Clinton, while the next highest candidate (Niki Tsongas) received about 7%, and it does seem reasonable to conclude that there are many, many people who would like more pro-choice women in Congress but don't support Clinton and would be deterred from contributing if 35 cents of every dollar went to Clinton. Of course, there are probably also many potential contributors who are energized by the Clinton campaign, so for all I know EL made the right move for building its institution (even setting aside the consideration that, when EL endorsed, Clinton seemed likely to win).

NARAL Pro-Choice America today endorsed Barack Obama. I wish they hadn't.

My reasons are both similar and different than my disappointment with Emily's List's endorsement of Hillary Clinton (which they did even before she announced her candidacy). In that case, my disappointment was based on the fact that supporting Clinton (which Emily's List has invested a great deal in) undercut Emily's List's core competency, which is mobilizing the support of pro-choice voters who want to support pro-choice female candidates, but who may not necessarily have the information to determine where their campaign contributions are best spent, both in terms of the candidates' records and their ability to win. If I contribute to Emily's List, I may not know the name of the candidate who's getting the money, but I know she's someone who shares my values and has a legitimate chance of winning. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign is in an entirely different category. Not only did she instantly become Emily's List's most prominent endorsee, by far, but she was undoubtedly not the choice of many -- maybe even most -- Emily's List contributors (for reasons relating both to the Iraq War and also to some of her rhetoric on abortion*). By mobilizing for Clinton, Emily's List risks causing donors to question whether Emily's List is really the best place to entrust their contributions.

NARAL's endorsement of Barack Obama raises similar issues -- and unlike Emily's List, NARAL (under President Nancy Keenan) doesn't have the credibility to make me comfortable with the selection of one pro-choice Democrat over another. Again, many or most of NARAL's supporters are not supporting Obama.

But the problems are deeper in the case of NARAL because of the timing of the endorsement. Emily's List at least made an endorsement when it could make a difference. NARAL made its endorsement when it was too late to affect the primary (which, as a practical matter, Obama has won) but too soon to be seen as a move against John McCain (although Keenan tries to cast it as such). The timing makes clear that it is intended as a "message" to Clinton. Keenan recognizes, but fails to really address the timing concern:
I know that most of you are probably thinking, "Why did you decide to endorse Obama, and why are you doing it now?" ...

Further, I believe Sen. Obama is going to be the Democratic nominee. He leads in pledged delegates, superdelegates, the popular vote, and cash-on-hand. As a former elected official, I know that having the three "m's" of a campaign - money, message and manpower (or womanpower!) - are how we win elections. Sen. Obama will be our next president....

Finally, NARAL Pro-Choice America, as the political leader of the pro-choice movement, felt it was time to take a leadership role. We have been so fortunate to have two fully pro-choice candidates running for the Democratic nomination and to that end, we've consistently praised both Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama for their leadership in standing up for women's reproductive rights. We continue to look forward to working with them in the future. But, for the sake of the reproductive-rights movement, we need to put any perceived differences behind us, and get to work putting Sen. Obama in the White House. We want to let women know that, no doubt about it, we have trust and confidence in Obama's ability and willingness to fight for a woman's right to choose. He's already proven himself in that regard.
Got it? Because NARAL is a "leader", they have to "take a leadership role" by following the outcome of the primary. Oh, and "womanpower" -- how cute.

I do look forward to NARAL working for Barack Obama in the general election. I do not view this as a flub on par with NARAL's endorsements of Joe Lieberman and Lincoln Chafee. There may even be a time, after the last primaries in early June, when issues organizations (and the party) have to begin treating Obama as de facto nominee. But the timing of this one was not right.

* I mostly defended Clinton's "common ground" speech (a phrase also accepted by Obama), but there is no doubt it was controversial within the pro-choice community.

Related Posts: Seriously, Is Nancy Keenan Even Pro-Choice; Letter to NARAL; ... Not A Lincoln.


You Gotta Lotta Bawls, Softbawls, That Is, Edition 

Unfortunately, my hope that the "what a girl" insult would go away has been promptly dashed.

Apparently, New York Mets journeyman Nelson Figueroa thinks insulting the Washington Nationals as "girls" somehow justifies his own poor performance:

"They were cheerleading in the dugout like a bunch of softball girls," Figueroa said. "I'm a professional, just like anybody else. I take huge offense to that. If that's what a last-place team needs to do to fire themselves up, so be it. I think you need to show a little bit more class, a little bit more professionalism. They won tonight, but again, in the long run, they are who they are."

Figueroa couldn't pinpoint the culprits, but suggested the serenading peaked during the third inning, when the Nats loaded the bases and he forced in a run by walking Nick Johnson.

"Don't care," Figueroa said about learning the names of the perpetrators. "Truly unprofessional. "That's why they are who they are."

So, the Nats are unprofessional "girls" because they razzed Figueroa from the bench, but Figueroa is a true professional -- and, equally important, a man -- even though he let the razzing upset him and walked in the go-ahead run? Got it. Kind of like Alex Rodriguez being a "girl" for nearly passing out while his wife, an actual woman, was in labor.

Ironically, it seems that Figueroa was the one who forgot he wasn't playing beer league softball:
Figueroa (2-3) didn't help his cause. He loaded the bases in the third by plunking Ryan Zimmerman, then forced in a run by walking Johnson as the Nats tied the score at 2.

An inning later, ... Figueroa committed a costly throwing error. After knocking down Felipe Lopez's comebacker with two runners in scoring position, Figueroa recovered the ball and seemingly had Rob Mackowiak nailed at the plate. But Figueroa's throw went well wide of catcher Brian Schneider as Washington again tied the score, this time at 3.

"I couldn't see anything," said Figueroa, who is expected to be skipped this weekend at Yankee Stadium. "The combination of spinning quickly and the wind blowing in my face, my eyes were blurry and I just tried to throw the ball softly, so I hoped that Schneider could get to it. I need to take my time. I panicked, thinking I knocked it down and I had a chance to get this guy out at home. I wanted to stop the bleeding right there but made it worse." ...

"At times it seemed like every pitch wouldn't work," Figueroa said. "I literally tried to throw balls down the middle just to let them hit it. When they did, they fouled off six or seven pitches in a row."
A consummate professional. No way around it.

Related Post: You Gotta Lotta Bawls, Enough Bawls to Not Have a Lotta Bawls When You Should Have a Lotta Bawls, or Something Like That, Edition


Thursday, May 08, 2008

You Gotta Lotta Bawls, Repeat Offender Edition 

I understand that Major League Baseball is not a bastion of feminism.

But still. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has a problem.

Two years ago, he was forced to apologize (in a very limited, if I offended kind of way) for calling a reporter a "fucking fag".

Now, his Sox are trying to break their slump by "placing a female blow-up doll in the clubhouse with strategically placed bats around it".


Waiting for the President to Die 

Josh Marshall speculates that Hillary Clinton doesn't (or at least shouldn't) want to be Barack Obama's running mate, arguing that becoming Vice President would actually reduce her chances for winning the Presidency in 2016, as well as reducing the prestige and power she can enjoy as an influential Senator in the party that controls the Senate. Both of those rationales are actually somewhat dubious -- recognizing that it depends a great deal on what Obama and Clinton might negotiate concerning her role -- but Marshall leaves out one critical consideration. As Lynne Cheney memorably put it in Body Politic, the Vice President's job is waiting for the President to die.*

I give little credence to breathless speculation that Obama would be somehow especially likely to be assassinated because of his race -- the Secret Service is quite good at protecting Presidents these days -- but the fact is, people die. Obama will be 47 when he's sworn in. Using standard life tables, a 47-year-old man has approximately a 95% chance of making it to 55. While this is somewhat sobering news for me (as I am not much younger than Obama), it is good news for Clinton, who would have a 5% chance of becoming President. (While Clinton herself has only a 91% chance, actuarially, of making it through eight years in the Obama Administration, the odds that they will both die, and that Clinton will die first, is only about .2%, so her own mortality does not materially reduce the likelihood she would succeed Obama.)

Five percent. Is it worth it for Hillary Clinton to take a job that offers her a 5% chance at the Presidency? The question answers itself. According to Intrade, her current odds of winning the 2008 general election are 6%. And she fights on.

Whether Clinton would accept the VP slot may depend on how it is offered. A grudging offer, with no assurances of influence, will probably be rejected. But a genuine offer by Obama, which includes a promise of real authority in at least some areas, is something that will be very tempting.

*The full quote is: "Under the Constitution, the only thing the job calls for is waiting: for the president to die or be impeached, waiting for the Senate to wind up in a tie vote so the vice president can break it."


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

You Gotta Lotta Bawls, Enough Bawls to Not Have a Lotta Bawls When You Should Have a Lotta Bawls, or Something Like That, Edition 

Is it two years already? I hope long time readers remember Stone Court's You Gotta Lotta Bawls series, where I cover the intersection of baseball with law, politics, and society. The last in the series, from May 2006, praised Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez (or at least condemned his critics) when he used a pink bat to raise money to fight breast cancer. This edition, not so much.

Apparently, A-Rod is beyond pathetic as a labor partner. Last month, it was reported that he not only showed up for his second daughter's birth after the event, but that he said that was "perfect timing":
"The timing came from God," Rodriguez said. "The first time I was there for 2 1/2 hours of pushing. This time it was 10 minutes after the delivery. It was perfect timing. That was great."
Well, okaaaaay. I wondered what Cynthia Rodriguez thought about the timing. But I thought, maybe, just maybe, he was trying to put a positive spin on an unfortunate situation caused by the Yankees' travel schedule, and that he just put his foot in his mouth.

Apparently not. According to Pete Abraham, the first delivery was worse. Here's Cynthia Rodriguez:

“As tough and big as he seems, he is real wimpy around doctors or any type of medical situation. I don’t know why I thought the birth of our child would be different. In the middle of the night, I realized that I needed to go to the hospital. I wake him up. The first thing that comes out of his mouth, ‘Can we call your mother?’ And I started, ‘No. Let’s wait and make sure that I am in labor, and make sure that, you know, it’s the middle of the night.’ And go to the hospital and everything. And finally, a few hours later, I said, ‘I think you can call my mom now.’

“Uh, and the color came back to his face when I told him he could call my mom. And then forget it. I was like not even having a baby; he was the one. The one nurse had a cold cloth on his head. The other nurse had the blood pressure on his arm. And my mother was like rubbing his back. And he is passed out on a couch. And I am there, in the middle of labor. And really, I am not being paid much attention to besides the doctor and a couple of nurses. And he is there moaning. In between pushing, I am going, ‘Honey, are you OK?’ And are you breathing? Are you OK?’"

Mary referred me to the comments to that post, which she fairly described as disheartening from a gender perspective. But this one is priceless:

hah the dude can hit a homerun 540 feet but can’t handle his son’s birth when his wife is going thru a lot of pain. haha wat a girl.

What a girl? A-Rod's weakness as a labor partner is because he's a girl? If there were justice in the world, the What A Girl Insult would be so embarrassed that he would go away and hide, never to be seen again.


Friday, May 02, 2008

Krugman v. Obama 

Paul Krugman today condemns Barack Obama's crediting Republicans with "the idea that regulation can be flexible rather than a matter of 'top-down command and control,' and in particular for the idea of controlling pollution with a system of tradable emission permits rather than rigid regulations". Krugman's critique is that Obama shouldn't be giving Republicans credit for an "idea of markets in emission permits [that] had long been accepted by economists of all political stripes".

Krugman's critique is mostly fair on the history (though Obama actually credits not just Republicans but also "people who thought about the markets", i.e., the economists Krugman refers to), but not necessarily on the politics of the moment.

As to the history, as Krugman acknowledges, President George H.W. Bush signed the 1990 Clear Air Act Amendments, which included the cap-and-trade protocol that is generally considered to have been successful in reducing emissions. The bill passed with broad bipartisan support, garnering 89 votes in the Senate (including John McCain's). More generally, as documented in Derthick and Quirk, The Politics of Deregulation (Brookings 1985), the idea of deregulation was one that gained currency on both the left and the right (although, as the book documents, Democrats and Republicans often meant different things by the ambiguous word "deregulation"). For example, Senator Edward Kennedy -- often used as a caricature of a "big government liberal" -- took up the issue of airline deregulation in the mid-1970s at the urging of staffer (now Justice) Stephen Breyer.

That said, while Krugman is right on his history, it's less clear that he's right about the politics of Obama's answer. Here's the context of the answer discussed by Krugman:
WALLACE: ... As a president, can you name a hot-button issue where you would be willing to buck the Democratic Party line and say, "You know what? Republicans have a better idea here?"

OBAMA: Well, I think there are a whole host of areas where Republicans in some cases may have a better idea.

WALLACE: Such as?

OBAMA: Well, on issues of regulation. I think that back in the '60s and '70s a lot of the way we regulated industry was top-down command and control, we're going to tell businesses exactly how to do things.

And you know, I think that the Republican Party and people who thought about the markets came up with the notion that, "You know what? If you simply set some guidelines, some rules and incentives, for businesses — let them figure out how they're going to, for example, reduce pollution," and a cap and trade system, for example is a smarter way of doing it, controlling pollution, than dictating every single rule that a company has to abide by, which creates a lot of bureaucracy and red tape and oftentimes is less efficient.
Now, we can debate Obama's whole post-partisan posturing. On the downside, the Republicans really have run the country into a ditch, so why should our candidate be taking their ideas seriously? On the other, Obama's approach is arguably Bush (circa 2000) in reverse, giving lip service to bipartisanship while taking positions consistent with party orthodoxy -- and whatever Bush's flaws, failing to push the goals of his party's base is not one of them. It's a viable strategy, but it can require some fast footwork.

Wallace's question essentially called Obama on the disconnect between his centrist rhetoric and his liberal policy positions. That's actually a fair attack -- but Obama can't let it succeed, because it goes to the core of his candidacy. He had to offer up something. That's why, to my mind, the response on regulation was actually quite deft. He offered an intentionally exaggerated description ("command and control") of an approach that was taken 30 or 40 years ago, but that no Democrat is urging now, and gives Republicans partial credit for coming up with a better idea, which by the way, we can use now to promote Democratic goals such as reducing pollution. Not a single modern Democrat gets thrown under the bus, and the overall message -- we're smarter now and can regulate effectively -- actually undercuts the Republican message that regulation is inherently counterproductive. It's actually a version of the "new Democrat" approach used successfully by Bill Clinton in 1992.

(Somewhat similarly, Obama's next suggestion purports to buck the teachers' unions by "experimenting with different ways of compensating teachers", but he goes on to distinguish between a simplistic "merit pay", which he opposes, and "having assessment tools" that allow us to "pay excellence more", a more nuanced view that is actually gaining traction among teachers.)


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