Tag Archives: gender: politics

Slow Progress for Women in OECD Countries

Cross-posted at Compassionate Societies.

This week the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released a series of new gender indicators, covering the presence of women in top corporate jobs and parliaments, the gender wage gap, and entrepreneurship.

Despite efforts in many countries to promote their participation on boards, women are still under-represented in top corporate jobs.  On average, women make up 10% of board members. The United States is only 2% higher at 12%. Quite a few countries do better. The highest is highest is Norway, at close to 40%, due to a mandatory quota introduced in 2006. In Sweden, France, Slovak Republic and Finland the proportion of women on boards is between 15% and 20%, while in Germany, Japan and the Netherlands, it is less than 5%.

The percent of women in the U.S. congress and senate is 17%, which is about 10% lower than the average of OCED countries parliaments.  In the past ten years, the average proportions have increased slightly, but significantly.

The overall wage gap in the U.S. has been declining, but at 19%, it is three times greater than it is in Hungary. And it is about twice as large as most European countries.  Overall, the gap has been declining:

Entrepreneurship is still highly gendered.  The percent of women has been rising, but this is largely due to an overall decline in male entrepreneurs during the past 11 years.

If one considers lack of participation in power positions of business as well as government to be indicators of injustice due to social processes like glass ceilings that prohibit advancement, then the U.S., as well as the rest of the OECD countries analyzed here, have a long way to go to reach gender justice, both informal and formal.

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Ron Anderson, PhD, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, has written many books and hundreds of articles, mostly on technology. In his retirement, he is doing research and writing on compassion and suffering and maintains the website CompassionateSocieties.org.

Against Giving Women the Right to Vote in Massachusetts

The vintage clipping below is a political advertisement from 1915 opposing women’s suffrage in Massachusetts. It claims that most women in the state do not want the vote, so if voting men gave women suffrage, they would be doing so against their will.  This, they claim, would be undemocratic.   This sounds ironic, but it makes sense in a world where men were suppose to be women’s political representatives.

The ad then goes on to try to demonize those women who do want the right to vote by associating them with other groups widely stigmatized at that time: feminists, of course, but also socialists, Mormons, and members of the I.W.W. The acronym stands for Industrial Workers of the World, an organization founded in 1905 as an alternative to the American Federation of Labor, reportedly consisting of anarchists, socialists, and union members (wiki).

Women in Massachusetts would be granted the right to vote on this day, August 18th, five years later, not by the residents of the state, but by Federal decree.

Via BoingBoing.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Global women’s progress report

Cross-posted at Family Inequality.

I have criticized sloppy statistical work by some international feminist organizations, so I’m glad to have a chance to point out a useful new report and website.

The Progress of the World’s Women is from the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The full-blown site has an executive summary, a long report, and a statistics index page with a download of the complete spreadsheet. I selected a few of the interesting graphics.

Skewed sex ratios (which I’ve written about here and here) are in the news, with the publication of Unnatural Selection, by Mara Hvistendahl. The report shows some of the countries with the most skewed sex ratios, reflecting the practice of parents aborting female fetuses (Vietnam and Taiwan should  be in there, too). With the exception of Korea, they’ve all gotten more skewed since the 1990s, when ultrasounds became more widely available, allowing parents to find out the sex of the fetus early in the pregnancy.

The most egregious inequality between women of the world is probably in maternal mortality. This chart shows, for example, that the chance of a woman dying during pregnancy or birth is about 100- 39-times higher in Africa than Europe. The chart also shows how many of those deaths are from unsafe abortions.

Finally, I made this one myself, showing women as a percentage of parliament in most of the world’s rich countries (the spreadsheet has the whole list). The USA, with 90 women out of 535 members of Congress, comes in at 17%.

The report focuses on law and justice issues, including rape and violence against women, as well as reparations, property rights, and judicial reform. They boil down their conclusions to: “Ten proven approaches to make justice systems work for women“:

1. Support women’s legal organizations

2. Support one-stop shops and specialized services to reduce attrition in the justice chain [that refers to rape cases, for example, not making their way from charge to conviction -pnc]

3. Implement gender-sensitive law reform

4. Use quotas to boost the number of women legislators

5. Put women on the front line of law enforcement

6. Train judges and monitor decisions

7. Increase women’s access to courts and truth commissions in conflict and post-conflict contexts.

8. Implement gender-responsive reparations programmes

9. Invest in women’s access to justice

10. Put gender equality at the heart of the Millennium Development Goals

Review of Transformers 3: Machines are Subjects, Women are Objects, and Female Leadership is a Joke

Cross-posted at Caroline Heldman’s Blog.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” the third installment in this $1.5 billion franchise that just set a new record for a Fourth of July weekend opening, follows what has become a Hollywood action movie tradition of virtually erasing women, despite the fact that women buy 55% of movie tickets and market research shows that films with female protagonists or prominent female characters in ensemble casts garner similar box office numbers to movies featuring men.

Only two featured characters in the large ensemble Transformers cast are women, and none of the Transformers (alien robots, for the uninitiated) are female. And the two female humans consist of an unmitigated sexual object and a caricatured mockery of female leadership.

Let’s start with “the object,” Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), the one-dimensional, highly sexualized damsel-in-distress girlfriend of protagonist Sam Wikwiki (Shia LaBouef). Carly wears stiletto heels, even when running from murderous machines (except when the filmmakers slip up and her flats are visible), and she is pristine in her white jacket after an hour-long battle that leaves the men filthy.

The movie opens with a tight shot of Carly’s nearly bare ass as she walks up the stairs:

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In a later scene, Carly is reduced to an object as her boss (Patrick Demsey) compares her to an automobile in a conversation with Sam:

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And in case the audience doesn’t know to leer at Carly, they get constant instruction from a duo of small robots that look up her skirt and Sam’s boss (John Malkovich) who cocks his head to stare at her ass:

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Sam’s “friend,” Agent Simmons (John Turturro), also ogles Carly and suggests she be frisked against her will:

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In a disturbing scene of sexualized violence, Carly’s (robot) car sprouts “arms” and threatens to violate her:

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Normalization of female objectification causes girls/women to think of themselves as objects, which has been linked to higher rates of depression and eating disorders, compromised cognitive and sexual function, decreased self-esteem, and decreased personal and political efficacy. Ubiquitous female sexual objectification also harms men by increasing men’s body consciousness, and causes both men and women to be less concerned about pain experienced by sex objects.

Transformers 3 is pitched as a “family movie” and the film studio carefully disguises it as such with misleading movie trailers showing a story about kid’s toys. (Okay, I still have an Optimus Prime robot…) Young kids were abundant at both screenings I attended, taking in the images with little ability to filter the message.

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It would have been easy for Michael Bay to positively present the second female character, Director of National Intelligence Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand). Instead, she is a tool to openly mock female leadership and promote female competition.

McDormand does her best to breathe some realism into Director Mearing, but the script calls for a caricature with “masculine” leadership traits – arrogance, assertiveness, stubborness, etc. – who is ultimately “put in her place” at the end of the movie with a forced kiss. Women continue to be vastly under-represented in positions of corporate and political leadership, partially due to the double-bind of women’s leadership where, in order to be considered acceptable leaders, women have to project a “masculine” image for which they are then criticized.

Director Mearing’s authority is challenged by virtually everyone she encounters in a way that simply wouldn’t make sense for a male character in her position. Sam openly challenges her in this scene:

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Director Mearing’s authority evaporates when Agent Simmons comments, ”moving up in the world, and your booty looks excellent”:

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Director Mearing is even challenged by a transformer. [SPOILER ALERT: Director Mearing is the only one to challenge this transformer’s intentions, and she gets no credit when it turns out she was right.]

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This Transformer again puts her in her place with the dual meaning of “I am a prime. I do not take orders from you”:

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Director Mearing also has a running theme of not wanting to be called “ma’am.”

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The “ma’am” theme doesn’t readily make sense since Director Mearing isn’t young and doesn’t appear to be trying to look young. But it does make sense when viewed through the lens of director Michael Bay intentionally mocking women’s leadership. Remember the flap when Senator Barbara Boxer at a hearing requested that a general use her professional title instead of “ma’am”?:

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The “ma’am” theme resurfaces in a particularly troubling scene where Director Mearing meets with Sam and Carly, who, in good double-bind fashion, challenges whether she is even a woman:

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Bay does include a few minor female characters with lines – Sam’s mother, the nagging mother/wife; Director Mearing’s subservient Asian assistant; a scene with both the “Olga” and “Petra” Russian woman stereotypes; and a Latina with a bare midriff who has a “Latin meltdown”:

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If Michael Bay can buy off the most accomplished actors and even musician/social activist Bono to participate in such harmful media, what hope is there in the war that pits girls/women (the Autobots) against unrepentantly sexist movies makers (the Deceptacons)?

Sexist and Racist CA-36 Campaign Ad

Dolores R. sent in a story at about a recently-released internet campaign ad in the CA-36 special election that Talking Points Memo has called “Willie Horton on steroids,” referring to the infamous racial-fear-mongering ad released by George H.W. Bush in the 1988 presidential campaign. The CA-36 ad was released by a new super-PAC (able to raise unlimited funds), Turn Right USA. (The guy who produced it also produced a striking ad for a candidate for Alabama Agriculture Commissioner in 2010.) It attacks Democratic candidate Janice Hahn over her support for gang intervention programs. And it’s a doozy. It is definitely NSFW:

Aside from the just over-the-top racist and sexist nature of the ad, it’s also interesting because of the issues it brings up about technology and democratization of ad campaign materials. Turn Right USA isn’t directly linked to or affiliated with the campaign of Hahn’s Republican rival in the race, Craig Huey. Huey’s campaign has reacted with dismay, condemning the content and distancing themselves from it. They clearly fear a backlash that will hurt Huey’s chances (and he’s already the underdog in the race). And yet, they didn’t create the ad, there’s no evidence that I’ve seen that they worked with Turn Right USA, and they don’t have any ability to take it down or symbolically fire the producer to show how little they think of it. We saw a similar situation recently in Florida, with a mailer apparently intended to discredit a candidate who had nothing to do with it.

While non-campaign-funded attack ads clearly helps candidates in a lot of situations (for instance, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads against John Kerry in 2004), they can also hurt the candidate they’re meant to help. Campaigns can’t control their content and they can’t retract them if they sense a public backlash. Voters may blame candidates for content they didn’t approve and can’t fix. And the increasing number of third-party advocacy groups, combined with the ability to distribute materials widely over the internet instead of buying TV time, seems likely to increase the danger to campaigns of these types of ads ostensibly meant to “support” them.

What if Anthony Weiner had Been Female?

Cross-posted at OWNI.

Something has been nagging me about the Representative Weiner (D-NY) sexting scandal: how would this story would play out differently had the sexting-congressperson been female? I wrote earlier about how differently “sexy” pictures of male and female political candidates are handled.

When Krystal Ball ran for congress, images of a past Halloween party became some of the most Google’d images in the world, unlike male politicians running for office at the same time who were also involved in scandals about images of their past behaviors. The images of women in general, and, in this case, female politicians, become poured over, detailed, dissected, analyzed and obsessed upon to a far greater extent than what is occurring with Rep. Weiner. Yes, the images he sent are being shared on and offline, but had Weiner been female the images might be shown akin to the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction”: the media would scowl at the perversion while simultaneously showing them on a constant loop, dissecting every pixel in detail.

So let’s do quick Google Image searches for Krystal Ball and Anthony Weiner. (In these screenshots I am logged out of Google and “SafeSearch” is off, however, neither of those factors influenced the results much).



Krystal Ball’s results are dominated by the images that caused scandal. You have to scroll through pages of images in Weiner’s results to find the “offending” images. Given that Google’s resultsare based in part on popularity and website inter-linking, we have to wonder how Weiner’s post-scandal online presence would be different had he been female. [We should note that Weiner had a larger online presence before the scandal than did Ball. However, many of the top images in the search are post-scandal, so that is not a complete explanation for the discrepancy]. In fact, it is easier to find women showing skin in Weiner’s results than the so-called “lewd” images themselves.

Even Sarah Palin, who has never tweeted “lewd” photos of herself to all of the Internet, has search results more focused on her body than does Weiner.

Michel Foucault noted that sexual repression is closely related with sexual obsession; and the obsessively prying “gaze” is really the regulation and controlling of ourselves and our sex. The relative lack of obsession of the images in this scandal strikes me as evidence of the weaker regulation of the male body and men’s sex.

How else would this scandal play out differently had Rep. Weiner been female?

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Please welcome guest blogger Nathan Jurgenson.  Jurgenson is a graduate student in sociology at the University of Maryland and co-edits the Cyborgology blog.

Removing Women from Situation Room Photo

Tim, Cindy S., and Kenny V. sent in an interesting story. The Brooklyn-based newspaper Der Tzitung, which targets the Ultra Orthodox Jewish community, published copies of the now-famous photo of President Obama and his staff in the Situation Room during the Navy SEALs operation that killed Osama bin Laden. Here’s the original (via the New York Daily News):

However, the version of the photo that ran in Der Tzitung had been photoshopped to remove the two women in the room, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (initially posted at Failed Messiah):

We’ve seen this before. Usually the argument for deleting women or girls from photos is that they are sexually suggestive or show women interacting with men in ways that are considered inappropriate by the Ultra Orthodox. Whether that’s the case here, or whether it was discomfort showing a woman in a position of significant political power, the effect is to rewrite history to erase the role of women in political decision-making.

UPDATE: While this post led to a lot of interesting discussions, some individuals also posted problematic and offensive comments about the Orthodox community. Due to a family emergency I was overwhelmed and distracted and did not monitor the comments closely at the time, and thus those comments have remained up for the past week. I am going to delete some offensive or inappropriate comments, but I apologize that they were left up for so long without any response from me.

That said, a lot of readers made really great comments, both about how we go about being culturally respectful/sensitive but also thinking through issues such as public representation, and that the Orthodox Jewish community is quite diverse and that this newspaper, and the policies it espouses, shouldn’t be taken as indicative of the behavior or attitudes of Orthodox Jews more broadly.

If Congress Looked Like Us

Sonita M. sent in a link to an image at GOOD that shows the makeup of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives now in terms of various characteristics (race/ethnicity, gender, political party, religion) and what it would look like if its members were more demographically representative of the U.S. population as a whole:

As they point out in the accompanying article, however, the area where Congress most differs from the U.S. population as a whole is in terms of socioeconomic status. The average wealth of members of Congress, according to OpenSecrets.org (they don’t specify if it’s the mean or the median, so I presume it’s the mean):

For the U.S. as a whole, median wealth was $96,000 in 2009 (the mean was $481,000), according to the Federal Reserve (via CNNMoney).