In defense of the sanctimonious women's studies set || First feminist blog on the internet

If motherhood is so great, why don’t you do it?

This New York Times article about MomsRising is a good one. It profiles a feminist organization that is pushing for gender equality in the workplace, and specifically mobilizing for the rights of working mothers. My major quibble is that the article is in the Fashion & Styles section, when it should be in Politics, and that the title is pretty condescending. But that aside (and those are probably editorial decisions, and not the fault of the reporter), the article is decent.

What aren’t quite so decent are the follow-up comments. The very first one says:

Maybe women should stop griping about gender inequity and start fulfilling the roles in life for which God uniquely intended them, i.e., staying home and being mothers! There is no more important work than being a good mother and most women are failing because they’ve been brainwashed into thinking they need to do everything but be a good mother to feel fulfilled.

Society is a disaster because several generations of children have been sent into the world unraised because of these foolish notions. Our culture today says men need to support women as they run society off the proverbial cliff. I daresay sewer rats raise better offspring these days than humans.

I absolutely adore the “there’s no more important work than being a good mother,” because it usually comes from men who work. Motherhood is important, and should be more socially valued. But let’s not underestimate the intellect of mothers. Most women know perfectly well that when a wealthy, hard-working CEO says that his wife does “the most important work in the world,” he’s full of shit. Of course he thinks his work is more important than hers. He’s paid for it. He gets some amount of prestige from it. He’s “accomplished.” She’s a mommy.

That isn’t to say that this is how it should be. It’s complete crap that motherhood is as undervalued as it is. But let’s not fool ourselves: it is. And if the “motherhood is more important than the presidency” folks actually believed a damn word of it, they would be going out of their way to increase the social value of mothers by financially compensating them for their time, or providing for childcare for the mothers who don’t have the choice to stay home (and there are a whole lot of those mothers), or making sure that all women had full reproductive freedom so that motherhood would be a wanted and valued choice. Or, you know, they’d stay home themselves.

No, they’d rather deride women who don’t stay home, give those “superior” stay-at-home moms a nice pat on the head, and then continue on with their merry professional careers. And if, god forbid, divorce ever enters into the picture, he will have decades of work under his belt, while she will have been “doing nothing” by staying home with the kids. Men who work are exercising their basic rights as penis-owning human beings to be remunerated for their efforts, and to choose from a wide range of occupations the one which best suits them. Women, on the other hand, are totally selfish if we don’t dedicate our entire lives to baby-making and child-raising.

The biggest issue facing mothers today is whether they can set aside the personal selfishness and feminism relentlessly promotes to properly mother their children.

In the emotionally sterile babysitter and daycare environment children do not fully develop for empathy and love skill sets crucial to make successful marriages and effective parenting when their turn comes.

— Posted by MARK KLEIN, M.D.

I wonder how much time Dr. Klein puts in with his kids? And it gets better…

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Tea and Crumpets

I saw this earlier today at Feministing, and I had mixed feelings about it at first. Participants in the Miss Hartford High pageant were being taught etiquette — including six proper seating positions and how to be quiet and wear makeup and act properly at a tea service — on the theory that learning manners and etiquette was something that would help the contestants when they enter the business world. And that, for some reason unknown to me, the business world is apparently having tea a lot these days.

Jessica was fine with the etiquette, but thought the lessons went too far into enforcing proper gender roles:

“Elegant” sitting positions, not talking, wearing makeup: clearly the recipe for a lucrative career.

I wasn’t willing to get too down on the program, given that these girls already have so many strikes against them in terms of how they’re perceived by people who can give them entree into the business world — most of Hartford High’s students are poor and black or Hispanic, and will undoubtedly be trying to get jobs in insurance companies run by white people from the suburbs. What harm, I figured, could come from giving them the tools to increase the chance to be taken seriously as a job candidate? After all, I knew from observing my best friend from law school interact with potential employers at the dog and pony shows recruiting programs put on that white people will regard even a very well-educated, “articulate” black woman with impeccable manners and perfect grammar and crisp enunciation as just one “aks” away from the ghetto. If she experienced slight stiffening and frozen smiles and evident watchfulness, how would a poor kid from the North End fare? Is it worth focusing on the gender stereotyping when it might help her get a job?

But then I looked a little more closely at the article, which I hadn’t had time to read earlier. And the first thing I noticed* was that my assumption that this whole pageant was a school-related thing wasn’t quite right:

The pageant isn’t until the spring, but throughout the school year the 11 contestants are learning the behavior and etiquette that transforms a girl into a young lady. Mastering the poise to carry themselves at a tea party, such as the one Sunday, is a primary goal of the program run by Catholic Charities with a 21st Century state grant.

Um, exactly why is Catholic Charities in the business of running high-school beauty pageants?

And why are they getting government funding for it?

While looking for information on the 21st Century grants, I came across this and this, which described the grant program:

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program is a nationwide program of the U.S. Department of Education to provide learning and recreational opportunities for children and adults during non-school hours in a safe and drug-free environment.

If teaching kids etiquette is a worthy goal — and it is — then why is it tied into a) a Catholic Charities grant and b) a beauty pageant? Because it’s nice that there are a select group of young women learning to take small bites and use the right fork at a business lunch, but you’d think it would be a skill many of the students might want some instruction in, given the reaction of local business leaders to Hartford High students:

Three years ago this month, I. Michael Borrero, a former school board chairman, gathered Hartford business leaders for a lunch and asked them what they thought the school system should teach students to help them succeed in the business world.

Teach them etiquette, the business leaders said.

Throughout most of the lunch, employers talked about the woeful table manners, style of dress, speech, attendance, punctuality and overall behavior of many Hartford teenagers that made it hard for them to succeed in internships or entry-level jobs. The business leaders said they wanted employees who know how to work as part of a team and can fit in with the dominant business culture.

Leaving aside the question of just how many actual Hartford teenagers these business leaders know well enough to know that they’re not punctual and don’t work as part of a team, this little snippet illustrates what these kids are up against before they even get in the door. If this religious group is going to be getting government grant money to teach kids etiquette, they should make the program available to anyone who’s interested.

* Actually, my first thought was, “Ohmigod! Rachel! She’s still at the Courant!” I worked with her on another newspaper a hundred years ago.

Braless No More

I start my new job Monday. Probably will have limited posting time, but fortunately, Jill’s pretty damn prolific these days.

I’ll be doing essentially the same thing I was doing before, but downtown (so a much shorter commute) and with actual opportunities for advancement.

In the meantime, I’m allegedly getting my final paycheck, two weeks late. We’ll see.

Why I’ve Been Quiet Lately

I know I explained a couple of weeks ago that I’d been quiet because weird things were happening at work. Now, I am here to tell you a little something about the weird things: I wound up being forced into choosing between going along with a substantial change in the terms and conditions of my employment or leaving. I decided to leave.

So I’ve been a little taken up with decompressing after that experience (read: napping and going to the gym), filling out paperwork for unemployment insurance, and trying to find a new job. No real bites yet, but it’s only been a couple of weeks.

Fortunately, once I get one more form, I can file my tax return, which means a pretty good refund (thank you, mortgage interest deduction!), so I can be comfortably unemployed for a few months even if my claim for unemployment is denied. And even if my former employer withholds my final paycheck, which might happen.

So. If anyone has any job leads or contacts, preferably in public-interest law, drop me a line at feministe (at) gmail (dot) (com). Thanks!

(p.s. I can’t yet discuss the details of what happened, so don’t ask)

The Source gets hit with huge sexual harassment judgment

From Feministing: The Source gets hit with multi-million dollar judgment in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former editor.

Kimberly Osorio, 32, was the first woman to be named editor in chief of the hip-hop magazine. She was fired in 2005 for “poor performance” after she complained of sexual harassment, including executives watching porn, smoking pot and calling female employees bitches.

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Proving Dorothy Parker Wrong

Highly-educated women are now as likely as women with less education to get married. This, I think, is supposed to make book-learnin’ ladies like myself really happy, because it means that despite having the opportunity to be relatively autonomous and successful, I’ll still be able to snag a husband. Boys do make passes at girls who wear glasses! Three cheers, etc etc.

But what would an article about women be without some sort of warning about how we’re collectively abandoning our God-given womanly duties and ohmygod our ovaries are shrivelling up as we speak? Gotta remind the girls that, despite their fancy educations, they shouldn’t forget that their primary duty in life is to repopulate the country (because apparently there aren’t enough people here already):

As children of egalitarian baby boomer moms and dads hit their 20s and 30s, high-achieving women now marry at the same rate as others, they just do so a few years later. The first part of that sentence is reason to celebrate. The latter is more worrisome. Later marriages tend to mean later and fewer births, and this country needs the bright kids bright moms raise. Though given how quickly society has changed on the first count, there’s every reason to hope that soon young women will succeed in changing the second part, too.

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Unequal Pay?

Here’s an item I found at Feministing. Apparently, there was a recent ruling by the European Court of Justice on an equal-pay issue that was touted in the press as a blow to equal pay for mothers. Take this article, headlined “No Equal Pay For Mothers”:

Women who take time out of the workplace for maternity leave have been told they have no right to the same pay as male colleagues.

Thousands of UK employers could now be forced to review their pay schemes.

The European Court of Justice has ruled that women can be paid less than men if their length of service is shorter because they have taken time off to look after children

The court said length of service was an acceptable basis on which to decide how much an employee should be paid.

The trades union Prospect said it was the most important sex discrimination judgment for 10 years, meaning experience is a key factor in deciding salaries.

Sounds bad, right? But something didn’t sit right, and one of the commenters at Feministing pointed out this analysis of the ruling from the BBC, which goes a long way to clarify the issue:

The European Court of Justice has rejected an appeal by Bernadette Cadman, 44, from Manchester, who said it was wrong to pay more to male staff simply because they had been longer in the post. So what does this ruling mean?

The decision means that employers can pay more to people who have worked for them longer.

The analysis notes that the pay structure does not count maternity leave (presumably for some set time per law) against women’s length of service, but should an employee have a break in service — something that, apparently, Cadman did (one of the commenters noted that she had taken something like 12 years off).

Now, if you take maternity leave, your contract continues during that leave.

The women it will affect are those who took a career break which did not count towards seniority.

This may happen either because they changed employers or because the employer’s scheme did not count the career break time as part of their employment.

So what the ruling does, apparently, is allow employers to pay more for greater length of service if they can prove that it is not unfair in some way to do that (such as when it’s discriminatory based on age or sex because there’s no accumulation of skills over time).

I can’t say I’m thrilled with that outcome; it sounds an awful lot like what Wal-Mart is proposing to do with salary caps. And if you’ve taken a multi-year break from work above and beyond maternity leave, is it fair to the people who’ve put in the time — male and female — if you get credited with time served even though you weren’t there?


Accommodating Exploitation

The New York Times has a remarkable piece, part of a series on the growing accommodation of religion by government, detailing how, over the years, religious institutions have been exempted from government regulation in more and more areas, leaving their employees without even the most basic labor protections.

One of the examples they give is a middle-aged novice nun who was dismissed from her order when she developed breast cancer.

If Ms. Rosati had worked for a business or almost any secular employer, she might have prevailed under the protections of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Instead, her complaint was dismissed in December 2002 by Judge James G. Carr of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, who decided that the order’s decision to dismiss her “was an ecclesiastical decision” that was “beyond the reach of the court” because “the First Amendment requires churches to be free from government interference in matters of church governance and administration.”

Now, you may be asking yourself, how exactly is the decision to dismiss a dedicated novice for no other reason than that she has cancer, any kind of “ecclesiastical decision,” given that one of the basic tenets of the religion in question is caring for the sick?

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