Archive: Oct 2014

Both Apple and Facebook recently announced that they will cover egg freezing for their employees. The policies at both companies provoked a series of smart analyses of why they are simultaneously something to celebrate and challenge. For instance, Joya Misra writes, “In an environment in which many women face motherhood and pregnancy discrimination, policies that encourage women to freeze their eggs supposedly to delay parenthood, may actually discourage women from becoming mothers altogether. Access to paid leave and high quality, subsidized childcare would better support women’s decisions about having children” (here). Dr. Misra and others are absolutely correct that egg-freezing policies fail to do anything about the family-friendliness of workplaces and organizations.1 The existing data on people who take advantage of the specific technology Apple and Facebook are offering to cover for female employees, however, suggests that the lack of family-friendly policies is only one issue worth considering here. Among these issues are: cost of infertility treatment, same-sex families, and explorations of the other reasons reproductively healthy heterosexual women might pursue these options.

There are four obvious groups of women who might pursue this technology. The first are queer or lesbian women (see here, here, and here). The second are women with known or anticipated fertility issues (such as cancer treatment). The third group (and those who have received most media attention surrounding this issue) are professional heterosexual women who may be in a relationship, but don’t want to have children until they’ve reached a place in their career where they feel it will be least professionally damaging. The fourth group are single heterosexual women who might pursue freezing their eggs in the hopes of eventually meeting someone. The data suggest that the majority of heterosexual women pursuing this technology are single. As one maternal fetal medicine specialist and Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology—Dr. Chavi Eve Karkowsky—writes,

“[I]f these women were partnered, but still wanted to delay child-bearing, they would probably pursue IVF with their eggs and their partner’s sperm, and freeze the resulting embryos. IVF and embryo cryopreservation is an older, more refined, and arguably more successful technology… What they want is a baby, yes, but with a willing partner for child rearing and a present father for their child” (here).

What Dr. Karkowsky suggests is that women’s decisions to freeze their eggs might have more to do with not feeling like they’ve found a “Mr. Right” (if they’re even looking for Mr.’s in the first place) than with a desire to focus on their careers. In one study of the reasons women pursue egg freezing as an option, women were asked to select any and all reasons to account for why they had not pursued childbearing earlier in their lives. Graph of Why Women Pursue CryopreservationWhile they were allowed to select all of the possible reasons that might apply, only about a quarter of the sample cited “professional reasons” for not having children earlier. The overwhelming majority of women (88%) claimed that “lack of partner” was the primary reason (see our adapted graph).2

This is related to an issue sociologists refer to as the “marriageability” of men. In the context of rising joblessness in low-income urban communities, William Julius Wilson suggested one consequence of shifts in our economy was that poor, non-white, urban men were disproportionately affected by the shift to a service economy. They’re not out of work because they don’t want jobs; Wilson found that they are out of work because the jobs simply don’t exist. And this has reverberations throughout their communities. One consequence was shrinking “pools of marriageable men” for poor black women (here). “Marriageability” has, thus far, largely been discussed as an issue of economic stability (having a job). And, as Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas more recently documented in Promises I Can Keep, poor women remain hesitant to bet their futures on men on whom they may not be able to count to provide economically for their families over the long haul.

More recently, Philip Cohen updated the outcome, considering the ratios of employed, unmarried men per unmarried women for black and white women. Cohen’s analysis suggests that poor women still have smaller pools of “marriageable” men, but also that black women face greater shortages of “marriageable” men than white women in most major metropolitan areas. Here too, Cohen relies on Wilson’s formula for marriageability: “marriageable” = employed.

Yet, when middle and upper-class women (the groups most likely to pursue cryopreservation fertility options) are asked why they are pursuing egg freezing, “lack of partner” is highest on the list. But many of these women must live in “partner rich” areas with favorable “pools of marriageable men” as traditionally defined. Surely some of this is the result of women finding men who might qualify as “marriageable” by Wilson’s standard, unmarriageable by their own.  As Stephanie Coontz has shown, women and men are asking a lot more out of their marriages today than their parents and grandparents might have.  As such, it might not be all that surprising that a more diverse group are delaying and forgoing marriage.  Pew Graph - EducationIndeed, as a recent Pew Report investigating the rise in unmarried Americans attests, the population of young adults who have not entered marriage is both growing and changing. For instance, the education gap between never married men and women has widened (see graph). Never married women and men are more educated today than previous generations. More than 53% of never married men today have more than a high school education; 25% have at least a bachelor’s degree. And while it’s a tough economy, Cohen’s analysis suggests that many of these men are finding jobs (often in larger numbers than women in many cities).

We suggest that middle- and upper-class women are delaying and foregoing marriage for many reasons, among them that the employed men they encounter are “unmarriageable” for other reasons.

We are currently working on an article collecting research across the class divide dealing with the “marriageability of men” hypothesis.  Research shows that the “lack of marriageable men” trend is best analyzed as twin trends occurring among different groups for different reasons. For instance, Wilson suggested that “marriageability” primarily had to do with obtaining a job—a task more difficult from some groups of men than others. But, middle- and upper-class women, by this standard, should be marrying in droves—employed men are not always the issue. Men who might be capable of financially providing are not necessarily all women want out of a relationship today.

For instance, in The Unfinished Revolution, Kathleen Gerson found that men and women across a range of class backgrounds said that they desired gender egalitarian relationships. Men were just as likely as women to say that having a partner able to find personally fulfilling work and to co-provide financially was an important part of what they hoped to achieve in current and future relationships.   Things get more complicated, however, when women and men are asked about their backup plans. What happens when those plans for dual-earning, emotionally fulfilling, egalitarian partnerships don’t work out? Women state that they are willing to confront a range of options in terms of fulfilling their family and career goals. Men, on the other hand, are most likely to say that their fallback option does not include the possibility of staying home themselves. Rather, men’s “plan B” appears to put women right back at “plan A” 50 years ago (see Lisa Wade’s analysis here). Indeed, in her interviews with women about their heterosexual experiences in Hard to Get, Leslie Bell finds profound dissatisfaction among 20-something women with their romantic and sexual relationships with men.

While only a small number of women currently choose to pursue oocyte cryopreservation, this issue represents a larger concern with which many women are dealing more generally. Freezing their eggs is one of many strategies heterosexual women might pursue as men are navigating new meanings of what it means to qualify as “marriageable” today.


Thanks to D’Lane Compton and C.J. Pascoe for advanced reading and comments on this post.

1 Whether or not assisted reproductive technologies (ART) are covered by insurance also varies by state in the U.S.  Some states mandate IVF coverage, for instance, while other states do not. In states that do not mandate coverage, it is a more expensive for employers to include coverage in their employee health benefits packages. So, this is not only an issue of “good” and “bad” companies, but one of state legislation that influences organizational policies as well. See here for state-specific policies.

2 It’s important to note that some social desirability bias is likely to rear its head here. For instance, some respondents may have felt that claiming “professional reasons” for not pursuing childbearing earlier may be perceived unfavorably by others.


I’ve been thinking a lot about Anita Hill.

Especially after witnessing this exchange this past weekend:

5 year old boy to a 7 year old girl: “You’re stupid. Suck my cock.”

(He grabs at her vaginal area.)

The girl quietly says “Stop,” but isn’t sure what is going on.

The scene haunts me, and millions of other individuals across the gender spectrum, as it replays over and over in our society. I share this to remind us how much more work needs to be done.

Here’s what gives me hope. My college students, like many, are activated around the larger context of harassment on campus. They are talking, discussing, holding protests, and claiming their rights.

Sadly, by week one in college most of my first-year students can identify a harassment culture. They have examples to share: instances of harassment based on sex, gender identity and expression, looks, racial and ethnic identity, and class identity. This is always terribly discouraging.

For years I have shown my students clips of the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearing to help them to understand how far we have come. I talk about being a college student when there was barely any language to describe that hostile climate. And were there school policies addressing stalking, sexual assault, and online bullying? I doubt it. But today, those policies exist. Today, Title IX is helping us to achieve equity in college environments across the board.

My students are always unusually fixated, watching the Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings of 1991, when Anita Hill is disemboweled before the public for her claims of sexual harassment. Fourteen white senators staring her down. Senators like Arlen Specter ask over and over about discussions of penis size, porn, and pubic hairs, in what appears to be an attempt to humiliate and break her down. It is as if she is on trial. And yet, she calmly perseveres. In the process, she teaches senators across the political spectrum and the public at large what constitutes hostile climate in the workplace, and what constitutes sexual harassment in a time of great ignorance and denial.

Even though this all occurred before my students were born, they are always grateful to know, understand, and experience this piece of history. Perhaps they see themselves in Anita Hill. They certainly see a brave woman who catalyzed social awareness about sexual violence and gender inequality. And they are standing on the shoulders of Anita Hill, and other reformers like her, including ), Fanny Lou Hamer (involuntary sterilization), Susan Brownmiller and Andrea Dworkin (rape culture), Anne Koedt, Shere Hite, and Barbara Seaman (women’s right to pleasure) and many other brave women who have publicly named sexual violence in their lives and society.

This year, a long-anticipated documentary about Anita Hill, Speaking Truth to Power, is available. It details the period before the trial, the trial itself, and the aftermath, including the approximately 25,000 letters received by Hill, a mix of death threats and loving support. We learn about her family (she is the youngest of 13 siblings), and her mother’s influence in her life. We also meet many of the people who have supported Hill over the years, including a group of women politicians, former colleagues, and family.  At the end of the film Hill is featured working with the younger generation, inspired by their energy and activism related to harassment culture. Most importantly, Anita helps us to reflect on how those hearings changed her life, and specifically how the combination of race and gender shaped her life, and changed the dynamics in DC and beyond.

Yesterday I screened this film for my class, and once again the students were transfixed. Afterwards, they talked about interviewing their moms, and their surprise in learning that many of their moms have experienced harassment in the workplace. In more than a few cases, these mothers experienced heightened misogyny at work, d19-columbia.w245.h368.2xuring and after the Anita Hill/ Clarence Thomas trial, a wrinkle that the film does not address.

Throughout the trial, Anita Hill is asked why didn’t she report these incidents. Today, students are also asked the same thing. Reporting is not an easy thing to do, and while reporting rates have gone up in recent years, the numbers as a whole are way too low to reflect the troubling reality on our campuses. It doesn’t seem fair to put full responsibility on the survivors, rather than the perpetrators. But how else do we hold people accountable for their actions? Anita Hill felt she had a responsibility to speak the truth.

Clearly, we still have a long way to go with this harassment culture, especially when it starts at age 5. But thank you Anita Hill, for telling the truth, and for paving the way. Thank you, Emma Sulkowicz at Columbia University, who asks us all to “carry the weight” on October 29th.

Thank you to everyone who continues to be activated around sexual harassment. Let’s continue to break through these  silences and push towards equality.



The bulk of my work, but especially in and around the month of October, is concentrated on breast cancer. “Awareness.” Culture. Industry. Advocacy. Mass Media. Scientific Controversies. Sound bites. Misinformation. Profiteering. Marketing pitches. Parades of pink. People in the middle try to set the record straight, often while dealing with realities of a disease that are never truly addressed in a comprehensive way.

Funeral directors wear pink jackets to honor “those who have battled breast cancer.”

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Cancer Center chastises women to persuade them to get mammograms, despite overwhelming evidence that screening mammography benefits fewer and harms more women than previously believed.

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Plastic Surgeons sell breast augmentation surgeries; objectify breasts; donate to “research.” As a massive consumer market, the number of plastic surgery procedures increases 5 percent every year.

TaTa Augmentation for RESEARCH
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Photo by Jody Schoger

Largest breast cancer charity partners with one of the world’s largest oilfield service companies. Awareness in a pink drill bit; carcinogens in fracking chemicals.

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As I reflect on this ilk masquerading as something useful, I find myself deeply troubled.

There are so many well-intentioned people trying to make progress and a difference in the lives of those diagnosed with, and at risk for, breast cancer. How do they do it amid the refuse? How do they separate the wheat from chaff? How does anyone?

I recently wrote in an op-ed for the Chronicle of Philanthropy3 questions missing most “awareness” campaigns— that need to BE answered, to try to address this.

  • Do we know who profits from all those pink-ribbon products and how much of the money (if any) goes to research or to support the diagnosed?
  • Do we know how much it costs to dress the NFL (or anyone else) in pink and who it really serves?
  • Do we know whom to trust for independent, evidence-based information?

There are more questions than this, but if we start with these we might gain traction.

Originally posted on “Marx in Drag”

Screen shot 2014-09-23 at 2.20.08 PMThere is something that is bothering me about the phrases, “A real man doesn’t hit a woman,” or “No one should ever hit a woman.”  This seems to be the go-to phrase in response to the video of Ray Rice punching and knocking out his wife. A friend with tickets to an NFL game wanted to wear a t-shirt that represented her commitment to girls’ and women’s rights. One person suggested, “Don’t Hit Girls.” On the surface, who could argue with that?

But I have found myself cringing every time I hear this. Why would I bristle at this no-brainer?

When we say, “Don’t hit girls,” it punctuates gender difference and re-articulates the idea that girls and women are a different kind of human than boys and men (e.g. don’t use that language around women and children, the victims of the airstrike include women and children, and you never hit a woman).

While these phrases strike a chord of protection, they are examples of benevolent sexism—cultural practices or beliefs that appear to raise women’s status and honor them, but in reality set them apart as different, weak, and/or in need of protection.  Benevolent sexism, while seemingly benign in the form of holding doors, is the same logic that was used historically to bar women from education, politics, and employment (it’s for their own good, poor dears).

I think the phrase “don’t hit women” might be an updated version of benevolent sexism and is the same old discursive move to punctuate gender difference as a hierarchy where men are powerful and women are weak.  When we say that men should not hit women and leave it there, we’re saying that it is okay for men to hit each other.  That is, men are more powerful than women, they are capable of and expected to use violence to settle disputes with “equals”, and women are not equals so should be left out of the messy business of masculine affairs.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I do not think we should do away with this injunction, and I am well aware that men have used violence to exert power and control over women, and that, as researchers like Lisa Brush show, they do more damage when they assault their wives than wives who assault their husbands (see article here).  Domestic violence is an enormous problem, is inextricable from gender power dynamics, and those who are victimized are in need of resources and protection and those who perpetrate should suffer consequences.

However, at the same time, I simply do not believe that saying, “don’t hit girls,” in response to media portrayals of men beating up women, will stop an individual abuser from hitting his partner.  In a world where men are told they should and deserve to have power and control, especially in relationship to women, and that violence is a natural, legitimate, and admirable way to settle disputes, a simple catch-phrase repeated only when boys hit girls or men beat on women won’t stop men like Ray Rice from punching women.

In fact, I think it might do the opposite. This phrase reproduces the idea that violence is inherently masculine and naturally wielded by men.  It’s a “man” thing; it’s not cool to use it against women and children.

While I agree that women and children should never be the victims of violence, I wholeheartedly disagree with the idea that masculine violence is natural or that it should, in any context, be wielded by men to settle disputes or exert or gain power.  When power and control are contested via physical violence, the entity with the greatest physical strength will have the most power and control, whether it is a state, a group, or an individual.  In reality, however, why should this be the case?  What function does brute physical strength serve in most contemporary societies except to unjustly exert or gain power to control others?

This is precisely what bothers me.  The problem is not hitting girls.  The problem is hitting.  If Ray Rice’s partner were significantly smaller than him and a man, what would we say?  What if Ray Rice was partnered with another football player his size or bigger?  Would it be okay for him to punch and knock out “his fiancé, now husband”?  Men small in stature, are not skilled at violence, or who are not willing to use violence against others also suffer greatly at the hands of boys and men who do.  How does that phrase, “don’t hit girls,” help them?  What grievance do they have in the eyes of public opinion?

Finally, I’m also bothered by the media spectacle of Ray Rice’s violence because I am a football fan. Football is embedded in and reflective of a masculine culture of violence.  There is absolutely no getting around this.

In fact, as Michael Messner and others suggest, because brute physical strength is no longer an advantage to men in most areas of life, we raise football  to a religion and worship football players because they provide a cultural demonstration of brute strength as valuable and a legitimate criteria with which to settle who is Number One.  Football, more than any sport embodies and celebrates that aspect of masculine culture and masculine superiority.

As a football fan, I appreciate the athletic skills of quarterbacks, receivers, and pass defenders along with the tactics and strategy required to excel as a team.  I also enjoy men in tight, spandex pants falling all over each other in slow motion.  It’s the beauty, not the brutality of the game that I love.

However, I can’t delude myself.  I’m not pulling the “I like the articles in Playboy” card.  I do sometimes enjoy the violence of the game.  I like it when my team sacks the other team’s quarterback. No matter what I like about the game, however, my participation and endorsement of it is ultimately an endorsement of the physical and economic exploitation of the players and the celebration of masculine power and violence. I am struggling with all of this and have to decide whether or not I will continue to participate as a fan.

But again, I think that blaming football for Ray Rice’s violence is also unacceptable. There has been important discussion about how the players bring the violence of the game back to their interpersonal relationships.  I have no doubt that is the case.  However, to say the problem is football is to ignore the broader gendered culture of violence of which football is a part. We need to take a long hard look at the gender of violence that makes us love football and say “A real man never hits a woman.” What if, instead of saying “A Real Man doesn’t hit women,” we said, “A good person doesn’t hit others?”

But of course, that wouldn’t work for a t-shirt slogan my friend could wear to an NFL game, for, if you oppose hitting of any kind, what are you doing at a football game? And that is precisely the problem with the centrality of violence in football and the role it plays in keeping the gendered order of violence unquestioned.  The t-shirt would have to be about girls.


schippers_photo_3Mimi Schippers received her PhD in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is Associate Professor of Sociology and Gender and Sexuality Studies at Tulane University. She is author of Rockin’ Out of the Box: Gender Maneuvering in Alternative Hard Rock (Rutgers University Press) and is currently working on her next book entitled Polyqueer: Masculinity, Femininity, and the Queer Potential of Plural Relationships (New York University Press, forthcoming).

I was in a rock band for three years. Sometimes 30-year-old women would look longingly at my lead-singer husband and 75-year-old men would flirt with me, but we never had 15-year-old girls scream at us. We were also not the Beatles, Elvis, or One Direction, although sometimes we made enough money to pay the babysitter during our gigs at a handful of local wine bars.

concert screaming
This image was originally published at

Do you scream at rock concerts? What pops into your mind when someone asks you to think about an audience of screaming fans at a rock concert? Media representation of this kind of image has tended towards young girls and women, which makes it important to think about this image from a feminist perspective. (I could also examine the age difference in concert behavior between my and my husband’s fans, but that is a different feminist issue.)

“But I’m not a 15-year-old girl,” you say. Of course we know that it is not just girls and young women who scream at concerts, even though we’ve seen the footage linked above (and it is not just the behavior of girls and young women that interest feminists). One of my friends noted that she hears lots of middle-aged men scream at country music concerts, for instance. But here’s the rub: the image of girls screaming is more common to see, and is evaluated differently from other images (of people, or screaming people), which makes it a good puzzle to sort out using feminism as a guiding lens.

Screaming is a physiological response to a stimulus, whether it is stress, fear, pain, sexual stimulus, or just excitement to see a rock star who has been hyped up as a dreamboat. Screaming at a concert, like the music performance itself, is a bodily experience, and calls to mind ponderings about bodies, control, and sexuality. Screaming at a concert, especially one where girls in the audience may be attracted to the main attraction (or even to the messages in the music), may be viewed as a form of free bodily sexual expression, an experience long touted by feminists of many types to be crucial if women and men are to be equal, egalitarian, and/or emancipated from their prescribed gender roles.

But it’s not that simple. This bodily and vocal sexual expression could have two paradoxical interpretations: either a girl screaming at a concert is defiantly protesting girls’ sexual repression in a highly sexualized society, or she is doing so as an unsuspecting part of the larger project to maintain girls’ sexuality as controlled, quiet, and contained.  more...