Thursday, June 30, 2005

Talking With Kids About Sexism 

This morning, I had a not entirely successful discussion with my 8 year old about sexism.

It began when he asked why most of his school's teachers were women, and continued with his offering as an example of sexism the following line from the trailer to Disney's "Chicken Little", which Mary and I had objected to several weeks ago when we saw it with him:
"Son, there's something I want you to know. In about 3 seconds, I'm going to scream like a little girl." -- Buck Cluck
We had a brief break in what seemed like a constructive conversation, and when I returned he was in total defensive mode. He wanted to defend the line by arguing that maybe the father said he was going to scream like a little girl because girls have higher voices, not because girls are less brave. He argued that people should just stop getting so upset about sexism, and that if a woman didn't get a job because of sexism she shouldn't make a big deal out of it and, besides, that didn't really happen anyway.

Sexism is a difficult subject to discuss with children. First, sexism may not be obvious in their own lives. The fact that most of the people in authority in their lives (i.e., teachers) are women suggests that women are powerful, not lacking in power. Women can have babies which, especially to younger children, seems like one of the most special and important things one can do. (Consider for example all the little boys who play at being pregnant.)

Second, even focusing on the single issue of sexism in the workplace (which is where my son started the conversation), complexity is unavoidable. It's fairly easy to discuss a situation where a woman is denied a job because of her sex. Most children have a basic sense of fairness that tells them that that's wrong. But in 2005 that's not the typical case. Discussing real sexism in the modern world involves a lot more complicated and subtle issues, like governmental and corporate family leave policies, how couples divide childcare, what cultural expectations and support are for women in the workplace, how employers view female employees and choose to invest in their advancement, how work schedules are and should be designed, whether there are relevant biological differences, etc. More complexity comes in if one wants to address divorce, single parents, and gay parents. Let's just say it's easy to lose the forest for the trees.

Any thoughts about how to discuss sexism with children? About what this says about why it is often difficult to explain even to adults?


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Partisan Noise 

Does it mean that Stone Court has "made it" that we've been dismissed by MSNBC's official meta-blogger as "partisan noise"?
Yesterday I saw a couple [DCCC] of blogs [Stone Court] reacting angrily to a story about members of Congress asserting their power to make it more difficult for George Soros to buy the new D.C. baseball team. I skipped them since they seemed like partisan noise, but today I was surprised to see the item picked up by conservatives [Captain's Quarters]. Now that it's a story of Americans finding common ground and criticizing politicians practicing divisive partisanship, I like it a whole lot better.
That's right. Republican hypocrisy is only a story if conservatives write about it.


Throwing Up Is Good For You 

David Bernstein, with whom I often don't agree, raises an important issue -- the unavailability in the United States of Bendectin as a drug for morning sickness.

As Bernstein reports, Bendectin is a safe and effective anti-nausea drug that dramatically reduces morning sickness, a condition that is very unpleasant for many pregnant women and dangerous for some. One study reports that the withdrawal of Bendectin from the market resulted in a tripling of the incidence of hyperemesis gravidarum, "a severe form of pregnancy-induced nausea characterized by persistent vomiting, ketonuria and severe weight loss and dehydration [which], if left untreated, can lead to coma, convulsions and fetal loss [and] secondary clinical depression". Bendectin remains available in Canada. It was withdrawn from the U.S. market in the early 1980s due to the manufacturer's concern over litigation. You can still simulate Bendectin at home with a combination of Vitamin B6 and Unisom -- The Well-Timed Period has a good rundown of the specifics -- but few women are aware of this option.

I have previously addressed our culture's unfounded anxiety about drinking alcohol during pregancy. The continuing unavailability of Bendectin seems to me to be of a piece with that. Fears of harm to fetuses are consistently exaggerated, while the suffering of pregnant women is almost entirely discounted. To be sure, there are genuine risks in pregnancy that should be guarded against (e.g., radiation, toluene, mercury). But the general impulse to avoid any risk to the fetus, no matter how remote, regardless of the cost to the mother, no matter how severe, both causes substantial unnecessary suffering for pregnant women and reinforces an ideology that, once they become pregnant, women exist for their children rather than for themselves.

In my view, promoting a more realistic understanding of the risks of pregnancy is an important feminist issue.


Monday, June 27, 2005

You Gotta Lotta Bawls, Breathtaking Hypocrisy Edition 

Via Atrios, the DCCC reports that Republicans are threatening Major League Baseball if it sells the Washington Nationals to a group that includes George Soros. A Soros critic, John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), asks, "from a fan's perspective, who needs the politics?"

Who indeed? Does Mr. Sweeney also object to Bush pioneer William O. DeWitt, Jr., owning the Cardinals? Or Bush pioneer Carl Lindner owning the Cincinnati Reds? Or Bush pioneer Tom Hicks -- who also made W a rich man -- owning the Texas Rangers? (In fact, thirteen current or former owners and their family members are Bush Rangers or Pioneers.)

But it gets worse. How about George Steinbrenner III, convicted of making illegal contributions to the Nixon campaign and obstruction of justice, owning the Yankees? How about Fred Malek -- Deputy Director of Richard Nixon's Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) who compiled a list of high-ranking Jews in government for Richard Nixon and senior advisor to George H.W. Bush's presidential campaign -- owning part of the Texas Rangers in the 1990s along with George W. Bush?

For those of you keeping score at home:
Legal support for Democratic presidential candidates: Bad

Legal support for Republican presidential candidates: Good

Illegal and/or dishonorable support for Republican presidential candidates: Good
If Mr. Sweeney can give a good explanation for all that, perhaps he can also explain the infield fly rule....

UPDATE: Commenter DanF reminds us that Rupert Murdoch, who's dabbled a bit in partisan politics himself, owned the Los Angeles Dodgers until 2004.

In this series: You Gotta Lotta Bawls, Contempt of Congress Edition; You Gotta Lotta Bawls, Part II; You Gotta Lotta Bawls....


Wimpy Protest 

Josh Marshall reports on a group of Young Republican-type anti-Social Security idiots who rallied on Capitol Hill and shredded their social security statements in protest. This is weak. They have a problem with Social Security? Let's see them shred their Social Security cards.


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Time When You Need It 

Today's Tierney column is good--it's the first I've agreed with almost without qualification. Mind you, the key part comes from a demographer:
It would be fairer to redistribute some of this free time [retirement time] so that young people, like harried parents, could enjoy it instead of waiting to get it all as one lump sum. As Ron Lee, a demographer at the University of California, Berkeley, asks, "Why not restructure our life cycles so that we take more leisure when we most need it, earlier on, and less later in life?"
I'm a big believer in continuing to do interesting, productive work as long as possible--in fact, I already have my second and third careers all planned out, and I'm barely started on my first... (Fred gets a little nervous when I start talking about getting another PhD, but I mostly do that to torture him.)

UPDATE: Oooh, Jesse really hated the Tierney piece. I'm going to be inconsistent here and say I don't disagree with many of Jesse's objections (even though I didn't think of them myself while reading Tierney), but I DO really object to Jesse's comment on the part I quoted above:
So, basically, privilege younger workers' need for leisure time over older workers' in the same position.
It's not about "privileging younger workers' need for leisure time", it's about recognizing that people in the childbearing and childrearing years (and not just fancypants lawyers and academics, either) are working more than they'd like to and having a hard time balancing work and family obligations. Paid leaves (whether for birth or adoption of a child OR care of a sick parent, etc.) earlier in life seem like a pretty good trade-off for working a little longer at the other end. In fact, if I didn't like Jesse so much, I might even be offended by his referring to the time needed by younger workers as leisure time--it seems pretty clear to me that what Ron Lee is talking about is things like childrearing leaves, and that ain't leisure, honey. And greater flexibility--and shorter work hour expectations during earlier stages of careers--also seem key for evening out the imbalance in paid and unpaid work between men and women in families.

Jesse may be right in some of his criticism of the particulars of Tierney's plan for older folks, but I still think Ron Lee's right about the need to re-examine the way work intersects with the life-cycle in an age in which both parents work.

FURTHER UPDATE: Jesse responds to my post above here. I'm in agreement with him that this shouldn't be a zero-sum game. (And I apologize for slamming him when it was Tierney and Lee who initially used the free time/leisure language in referring to what parents do--this is a bad habit that's common in the economics crowd.) Restructuring paid work so that it better interacts with unpaid caring work is something that should happen regardless of what happens to retirement.

At the same time, I don't think retirement as it is currently structured needs to be treated as sacred--it's a relatively new invention in human history, and I see no reason to believe we've necessarily gotten it "right" the way we have it now. I don't think we should undo any of the safety nets that have changed old age from a time of fear and poverty to a time of reasonable comfort for many. But to the extent that there are policies that create disincentives for those who would like to continue working to do so, that seems messed up. Many people would like to continue working in the jobs they've always had, or would like to work part time in a public-service-oriented capacity, (or in my case, would like to spend my twilight years on archaeological digs--but that's a different matter). With the working-age population shrinking in relative terms, I'm not sure we need to be so worried about older folks hogging jobs that would otherwise allow the young to move in and move up--I think there are going to be more jobs than people... But I could be wrong.


Friday, June 10, 2005

Road Trip 

Mary and I are heading off for some interleague play (Yanks @ Cards tonight and BoSox @ Cubs Sunday) and then some R&R -- so there will be light posting for about a week.

Trivia: The four teams we will see this weekend account for 43% of the World Championships. (Switch the A's for the Cubs and you get to 50% with four teams.) Pretty amazing that despite the 86-year hiatus the Sox are tied for fourth in Championships.


Thursday, June 09, 2005

About Time 

Amp (via Tennessee Guerilla Woman) reprints NOW's 1967 Bill of Rights.

I won't reprint the whole thing, but look at the first one:

I. That the United States Congress immediately pass the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution to provide that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex” and that such then be immediately ratified by the several States.
Rightfully first. However other issues may change over time (for example, the comments at TGW address the changing context of single-sex education since 1967), the enshrinement of equality on the basis of sex in our Nation's foundational document is a timeless, and critical, goal.

It seems to me that the E.R.A. should be a central goal of the Democratic party, but it is disturbingly absent from the 2004 platform. Yes, it didn't pass the last time, but so what? The right lost on abortion in 1973, but it never gave up (see, e.g., 2004 Republican Platform at 84 ("We support a human life amendment to the Constitution")), and it is now on the verge of overturning Roe. Same thing with eliminating taxes, social security, and public education -- they don't give up.

So why do we?

Kos has rightly received a lot of criticism recently for his offensive comments (and lame apology) about the "women's studies set", his (perhaps misunderstood) statement that "abortion and choice aren't core principles of the Democratic Party", and the unexamined sexism in his own life. Nonetheless, Kos is right that Dems should have a consistent message of "core principles" and that "equality under the law" is one of them. What better way to say "equal rights" than the E.R.A.?

Mary has argued that the time is right for the E.R.A.:
The ERA was the wedge issue of its day, and our side was then, demographically, on the wrong side of the wedge. We're on the right side of it now....

From a policy perspective, the ERA may not be the most important issue right at this moment, but again, as with the balanced budget amendment, why not make it enough of an issue that the Republicans are forced to articulate why they're against something as seemingly innocuous as:
Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
As a procedural matter, I should point out that the ERA didn't just die in '79 or '82--it has been introduced in every Congress since then--but it has fizzled to a symbolic act. The idea is to bring it back to the front of the Democratic agenda, so that the Republican position on it gets highlighted. Instead of letting them rail on about gay marriage, why not see if we can provoke the Santorums and Grand Inquisitors to articulate what they have against equality for women? The demographics are with us now.
I won't reprint here all of Mary's reasoning, which is persuasive, but equality of rights is a principle that should always, always be in our platform.


Wednesday, June 08, 2005

That's Archbishop Vincy to You 

I'm booking a flight now on American Airlines (aa.com). When I came to my credit card info, under "Cardholder's Name", it has a drop down menu for "Prefix". After the usual (Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss, Dr.), it offers these tempting options (punctuation preserved from the original):
Brig. Gen.
I can't wait to find out who I'm sitting next to....


Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Ampersand posts on what he rightly describes as an "appalling injustice" -- a nineteen year old Texas man has been sentenced to life in prison for beating his girlfriend's stomach, with her consent, in a mutual effort (apparently successful) to terminate her pregnancy. One can only imagine the pain of his mother, who reportedly "stood in stunned silence, surrounded by family members for several minutes after her son was led away".

Some of the comments to Amp's post express some sympathy for the prosecution, on the view that consent should not be allowed as a defense to what could be viewed as domestic violence.

While I have some sympathy for that concern, the fact that consent is not a defense is very troubling. Texas generally considers consent to be a defense to assault charges, unless the assault threatens or causes "serious bodily injury", see Penal Code 22.06. "Serious bodily injury" in turn, means "bodily injury that creates a substantial risk of death or that causes death, serious permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ". Penal Code 1.07(a)(46). I haven't seen the judge's decision, so I suppose that this decision might have been justified on the grounds that the defendant's conduct threatened permanent impairment of this woman's uterus or other internal organs. However, I suspect that the theory of prosecution was that the harm was to the fetus and, therefore, that the woman, while able to consent to an assault upon herself, lacked the capacity to consent for the fetus. That is very troubling, indeed.

UPDATE: Comments to Amp's post suggest that this was, indeed, a case involving genuine abuse, whether or not she consented to this particular beating. Whatever the merits of this case, the notion that a woman is legally incapable of providing consent under these general circumstances seems troubling.

Related Post: Prosecutorial Abuse


Saturday, June 04, 2005

Pinko? Blue? Purple? 

Via Pinko Feminist Hellcat

I am:
"You're a damn Commie! Where's Tailgunner Joe when we need him?"

Are You A Republican?


Thursday, June 02, 2005


to Christian Conservative for conducting a fair and open-minded interview of Alas, A Blog's Ampersand.

And to Ampersand, for allowing himself to be put on the spot and articulating a liberal's worldview far more articulately that I could have done. I would think that any religious conservative who approached the interview with an open mind would, like CC, respect Amp's "intellect and honesty" and recognize "that although we have different visions for America, I found myself nodding at some of your reactions".

For his part, Amp concluded with a call for humility, kindness, and intellectual honesty, which strikes me as exactly right. A good start might be if CC were willing to be interviewed by Amp.


Wednesday, June 01, 2005


Former jailbirds G. Gordon Liddy (now right wing radio host) and Chuck Colson (now fundamentalist broadcaster) think Mark Felt was the one who acted inappropriately during Watergate.

Pat Buchanan, who urged Nixon to "burn the tapes", agrees.

So also implies Leonard Garment, who admits to having been a "big-time leaker" himself, "but, naturally, for the noblest and most loyal reasons" (Leonard Garment, Plumbers, Save Your Energy, N.Y. Times, Feb. 15, 1998).


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