What’s the big deal about uptalk? In The College of William & Mary’s Tom Linneman took a look at how women and men both use uptalk in his new study, “Gender in Jeopardy! Intonation Variation on a Television Game Show” in Gender & Society. The punchline? Women use uptalk more frequently, but men use it as well. For men, however, uptalk signals something completely different.

What is uptalk? “Uptalk is the use of a rising, questioning intonation when making a statement, which has become quite prevalent in contemporary American speech,” explains Linneman. Uptalk in the U.S. is reported to have emerged in the 1980s among adolescent women in California, aka “Valley Girls,” and it has become more widely used by men and women since then. Uptalk has been associated with a way of talking that makes women sound less confident Or is it makes people sound more like a girl?

Jeopardy! was Linneman’s clever setting for observing how women and men use the speech pattern. The associate professor of sociology analyzed the use of uptalk by carefully coding 5,500 responses from 300 contestants in 100 episodes of the popular game show. He looked at what happened to speech patterns when contestants – from a variety of backgrounds – gave their answers to host Alex Trebek.  Although the contestants were asked to phrase their response in the form of a question, they used uptalk just over a third of the time.

How do men use uptalk? Linneman found that men use uptalk as a way to signal uncertainty.   Linneman explained, “On average, women used uptalk nearly twice as often as men. However, if men responded incorrectly, their intonation betrayed their uncertainty: Their use of uptalk shot up dramatically.”  On average, men who answered correctly used uptalk only 27 percent of the time. Among incorrect responses, men used uptalk 57 percent of the time.  In contrast, a woman who answered correctly used uptalk 48 percent of the time, nearly as often as an incorrect man.

Men’s uptalk increased when they were less confident, and also when they were correcting women—but not men. When a man corrected another man—that is, following a man’s incorrect answer with a correct one—he used uptalk 22 percent of the time. When a man corrected another woman, though, he used uptalk 53 percent of the time. Linneman speculates that men are engaging in a kind of chivalry: men can be blunt with another man in public, but feel obliged to use a softer edge with a woman.

How do women use uptalk? As Linneman explains, “One of the most interesting findings coming out of the project is that success has an opposite effect on men and women on the show.”  Linneman measured success in two ways: He compared challengers to returning champions, and he tracked how far ahead or behind contestants were when they responded.  Linneman found that, “The more successful a man is on the show, the less he uses uptalk. The opposite is true for women…the more successful a woman is on the show, the more she uses uptalk.” Linneman suspects that this is “because women continue to feel they must apologize for their success.”

-Virginia Rutter

The National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW)’s new study, “Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973– 2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health” appears today in the peer-reviewed Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law. I’m sharing some highlights from their press statement, but check out the entire piece, including their discussion of political actions.

Here are some of the cases NAPW summarizes:

  • A woman in Utah gave birth to twins. When one was stillborn, she was arrested and charged with criminal homicide based on the claim that her decision to delay cesarean surgery was the cause of the stillbirth.
  • After a hearing that lasted less than a day, a court issued an order requiring a critically ill pregnant woman in Washington, DC, to undergo cesarean surgery over her objections.  Neither she nor her baby survived.
  • A judge in Ohio kept a woman imprisoned to prevent her from having an abortion.
  • A woman in Oregon who did not comply with a doctor’s recommendation to have additional testing for gestational diabetes was subjected to involuntary civil commitment.  During her detention, the additional testing was never performed.
  • A Louisiana woman was charged with murder and spent approximately a year in jail before her counsel was able to show that what was deemed a murder of a fetus or newborn was actually a miscarriage that resulted from medication given to her by a health care provider.
  • In Texas a pregnant woman who sometimes smoked marijuana to ease nausea and boost her appetite gave birth to healthy twins.  She was arrested for delivery of a controlled substance to a minor.
  • A doctor in Wisconsin had concerns about a woman’s plans to have her birth attended by a midwife. As a result, a civil court order of protective custody for the woman’s fetus was obtained. The order authorized the sheriff’s department to take the woman into custody, transport her to a hospital, and subject her to involuntary testing and medical treatment.

In all, the researchers identified 413 criminal and civil cases involving the arrests, detentions and equivalent deprivations of pregnant women’s physical liberty that occurred between 1973 and 2005. These 413 cases in 44 states, the District of Columbia and federal jurisdictions are likely a substantial undercount and does not include more than 250 known cases that have occurred since 2005. You can read here about a decision last week in Alabama that will intensify the state’s ability to police pregnant women.

In the cases reviewed for  this paper, pregnant women were subject to arrests; incarceration; increases in prison or jail sentences; detentions in hospitals, mental institutions and drug treatment programs; and forced medical interventions, including surgery. The researchers wanted to know, what was the basis of these arrests and forced interventions?

“Our analysis of the legal claims used to justify these arrests found that they relied on post-Roe measures such as feticide laws and the same arguments made in support of so-called ‘personhood’ measures – namely that state actors should be empowered to treat fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses as completely legally separate from the pregnant woman,” said Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) and lead author of the study.

Jeanne Flavin, PhD, Fordham University professor of sociology, president of NAPW’s board of directors, and the study’s co-author, said “The public debate about personhood and other anti-abortion measures tends to focus narrowly on abortion.  Our study makes clear that all pregnant women are threatened by such measures.  These measures not only undermine maternal, fetal, and child health, they deny women’s status as full constitutional persons, as human beings.” Flavin is author of Our Bodies, Our Crimes: The Policing of Women’s Reproduction in America.

While the study shows that low-income women and African American women are more likely to be deprived of their physical liberty, it also confirms that these state interventions are happening in every region of the country and affect women of all races. The researchers argue that as “personhood” measures continue to be promoted in state legislatures and in Congress, and as we observe the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, this study broadens the conversation from one just about abortion to one about health policy and the legal status of pregnant women.

Read the report.

Virginia Rutter

My colleague Stephanie Coontz at Council on Contemporary Families and I put together this item about a great new study: At a time of dramatic change in attitudes towards gays and lesbians in America, a new study released this month in Gender & Society highlights the diversity of gay and lesbian experiences in America. “Midwest or Lesbian? Gender, Rurality, and Sexuality,” by University of Nebraska sociologist Emily Kazyak, puts the lives of rural gays and lesbians under the microscope. Almost 10 percent of gays and more than 15 percent of lesbians in the United States live in rural areas. While 25 percent of same-sex couples are raising children, same-sex couples in rural areas are even more likely than their urban counterparts to have children.

As University of Massachusetts sociologist Joya Misra, editor of Gender & Society, puts it, “the rapidity of changes in attitudes toward gays and lesbians has been stunning. Kazyak’s article helps bring into focus how greater acceptance of gays and lesbians is not simply a phenomenon of big cities – but reflects changes and opportunities in rural communities as well.”

How much change? Researchers at Sociologists for Women in Society and the Council on Contemporary Families recently surveyed how much and how rapidly gays and lesbians have been integrated into mainstream life. Consider these changes in the past year alone:

  • In November, for the first time, three U.S. states approved same-sex marriage by popular vote. Just three years ago, Maine voters defeated same-sex marriage by a margin of 53 to 47 percent. This year they reversed themselves, approving it by 53 to 47 percent. Maine joins a growing list of rural states including Iowa and Vermont that recognize same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, Minnesota defeated the same kind of anti same-sex marriage measure that had passed everywhere it was introduced in the previous 15 years.
  • While California defeated same-sex marriage in 2008, a February 29, 2012, Field poll shows that if the measure were submitted again, it would win. Today a record 59 percent of registered voters in California approve same-sex marriage.
  • In numerous public opinion surveys, including one from November 2012, the past decade’s rise in approval for same-sex marriage in all regions of the country is evident: even the Midwest and the South, where gay and lesbian rights are less popular, have seen a 14 percent increase in approval for same-sex marriage.
  • In 2009 Hispanics opposed same-sex marriage by a large margin. In 2012 exit polls, 59 percent of Hispanics supported it. In just the four months between July and October 2012, the number of African Americans opposing same-sex marriage fell from 51 percent to just 39 percent.
  • White evangelical Christians are seeing a dramatic generational shift, with 40 percent of those under 30 supporting same-sex marriage, compared to only 18 percent of those over 30.
  • And on December 6, a new poll by USA Today found that almost three-quarters of Americans 18 to 29 years old now support same-sex marriage, while more than a third of Americans say their views about same-sex marriage have changed significantly over the last several years, with approval rising in every age group.

Are these changes significant for gays and lesbians living in rural areas? Dr. Kazyak’s Gender & Society study, published by Sage Publications, offers answers, based on her examination of the experiences of gays and lesbians who live in rural areas (with populations as small as 2500 people). The University of Nebraska-based researcher focused on rural areas in the Midwest. She finds that rural gays and lesbians enjoy more acceptance than stereotypes about rural life would suggest. In fact, Dr. Kazyak reports that lesbians in rural areas can pick and choose from a wider range of gender behaviors than their urban counterparts. Largely because of the tradition of shared labor in farm families, behaviors and activities that would be considered unfeminine or “butch” among urban women are more widespread and meet greater approval in rural areas.

Dr. Kazyak describes how rural lesbians reported the gender flexibility available to them. One lesbian described the kind of upbringing that is common in rural areas: “I helped my dad a lot on the farm, raising…livestock…I really enjoyed driving the farm machinery! It just empowered me, driving a tractor or truck.” Another woman stated, “Tomboyishness was somewhat more acceptable than it might be somewhere else.” A third pointed out that “farm girls might dress up for the prom, but they also could slaughter a hog.” This flexibility allows lesbians who are drawn to masculine activities or who dress in masculine ways to find more acceptance than they might in an urban or suburban setting.

On the other hand, Dr. Kazyak discovered that gay men felt required to appear more macho than their urban counterparts. One man she interviewed commented on how few rural gay men display the mannerisms that are sometimes associated with gay life in metropolitan areas. He noted how surprised he initially was by “getting flirted with what I thought were straight men….[T]hey weren’t straight men, they were gay men, but they looked very straight, they acted very masculine…. It was, like, this wasn’t what I thought of as a gay man. So being in this town really changed how I thought of myself and the gay community.” Both rural gays and lesbians thought their lives and identities were much different than their urban counterparts.

Dr. Kazyak noted, “My research on rural gays and lesbians shows us that the lives, behaviors, and self-presentations of gays and lesbians are more varied and complex than portrayed on TV, even in shows such as ‘Modern Family,’ where one of the gay characters grew up on a farm. The rural Midwest is not a place we typically associate with gay and lesbian life, but my research shows us how gays and lesbians are increasingly out and accepted in small towns across the country.”

Dr. Kazyak adds, “Times have changed for gays and lesbians throughout the United States; but there are still many challenges, from the fact that employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation remains legal at the federal level and in many states, to the alarmingly high rate of homelessness among gay and lesbian youth.”

Article: Kazyak, Emily. 2012. “Midwest or Lesbian? Gender, Rurality, and Sexuality.”

Gender & Society 26 (6): 825-848. (.pdf available upon request.)

Link here to full press release and references to additional experts and resources on diversity among gays and lesbians.

-Virginia Rutter

My colleague Bridgette Sheridan has been complaining about The Atlantic coverage of gender for the past few years. So she forwarded with delight a spot-on column “The Intellectual Situation” in n+1 , a literary magazine that publishes social criticism, political commentary, and essays. The editors at n+1 begin:

Listen up, Ladies

Every time a plane flies over New York, we think, “Oh my God — is it another Atlantic think piece?” We mean, “an Atlantic think piece about women.” The two have become synonymous, and they descend upon their target audience with the regularity and severe abdominal cramping of Seasonale. “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” “The End of Men,” “Marry Him!”

Read their piece all the way to its logical conclusion:

So far, this strategy seems to be working. The Atlantic had its first profitable year in decades in 2010, and in 2011 made more than half its ad revenue from digital sales, while print ad sales were the highest they’d been in years. In fact, since we married our deadbeat boyfriend, quit our job, and accidentally had quadruplets through in vitro fertilization (all boys, thank God!), we’ve realized we could use some of that cash, so we’re thinking of pitching an article: “Why You’re Failing the Daughters You’ve Never Had and Probably Never Will.”

Will definitely read more from n+1.

Virginia Rutter

Just about the most mundane thing to populate media lately has been the claims of the end of men. Even so, two weeks ago, I attended a useful conference at Boston University Law School on “investigating the claims of the end of men.”  The subject of the conference was taken from the title given an article that led to a book by journalist Hanna Rosin. Rosin’s upshot is that women are gaining in the work place and in leadership; from this claim Rosin has helped to fuel a perception among some men and some commentators that men are losing ground. (The image above is JFK signing the Equal Pay Act, June 10, 1963.)

Why am I so down on these claims? Stephanie Coontz skillfully analyzes many of the reasons in “The Myth of Male Decline.”  Check out Nancy Folbre’s quick summary at the Economix blog today, and she explains: “The men-in-decline issue can’t be reduced to numbers, but in a comprehensive critique in The New York Times, Stephanie Coontz highlights misleading inferences drawn from a marketing-firm study of several metropolitan areas showing that never-married childless women in their 20s out-earn men in the same category.” (After you read Coontz, then read Folbre, and follow up on her fun review of Philip Cohen’s debunking of the end of men!)

Let me add another piece of evidence released after Stephanie’s piece appeared in The New York Times. The American Association of University Women’s October 2012 study, “Graduating to a Pay Gap” (.pdf) found that one year after college graduation, women earn 82 percent of what men earn. As Nancy Folbre noted, “While young women are more likely than young men to graduate from college, their diplomas don’t generate equally rich rewards.”

The AAUW study found a few factors could account for part of the gap, but about one-third of the difference could not be accounted for. Some of that 18 percent gender gap is explained by choice of major. Men major in fields that lead to higher pay. This isn’t a signal that the difference is fair, or natural, or justified. It just tells us that there is a system of what would otherwise by arbitrary differences between men and women that makes it easier for some people to maintain a sense that gender difference in pay “just happens.”

Think about this: The proportion of women in computer science went up to 37 percent in 1985. Then it went down to 22 by 2005. That kind of swing isn’t nature (as in the conversation-ending claim that it is just natural that boys and girls have different preferences). That is something else….

Some of the gap is explained by occupation. Men are in higher paying occupations. Keep in mind: the reasoning here is a bit circular: are men in higher paying occupations? Or is it that occupations with a high share of men are better paying? A little bit of the gender gap is explained by differences in hours worked. Women averaged 43 hours per week, men 45 hours per week in the study.

None of these factors are signals that men and women are different, but that the world is different for them. So that leaves the “unexplained” part of the gap.  The executive summary of the study offers this description:

Consider a hypothetical pair of graduates—one man and one woman—from the same university who majored in the same field. One year later, both were working full time, the same number of hours each week, in the same occupation and sector. Our analysis shows that despite these similarities, the woman would earn about 7 percent less than the man would earn. Why do women still earn less than men do after we control for education and employment differences?

The authors suggest that discrimination, including bias against women in negotiations (employers appear to respond to women’s negotiating attempts less favorably and to men’s negotiating attempts more favorably), might explain some of it. Tell me about it. I keep saying it: inequality is sneaky. But it isn’t subtle.

-Virginia Rutter

Mary Wollstonecraft, a founding grandmother of liberal feminism who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), focused on how to improve the status of women (middle-class, white British women, that is) by revising education and transforming marriage. She writes of love,

Love, the common passion, in which chance and sensation take place of choice and reason, is, in some degree, felt by the mass of mankind; for it is not necessary to speak, at present, of the emotions that rise above or sink below love. This passion, naturally increased by suspense and difficulties, draws the mind out of its accustomed state, and exalts the affections; but the security of marriage, allowing the fever of love to subside, a healthy temperature is thought insipid, only by those who have not sufficient intellect to substitute the calm tenderness of friendship, the confidence of respect, instead of blind admiration, and the sensual emotions of fondness.

Down with romance, says Wollstonecraft. To liberate women and men, marriage should be stripped of passion. She argued, in effect, that doing so would offset the way that marriage starts as a cartoon of manly men adoring delicate women of great beauty and not much more (because of the limits of women’s education that Wollstonecraft deplored). To wit, the hero of her unfinished novel, Maria; or the Wrongs of Woman, is remembered above all for her line, “marriage has bastilled me for life.” (Bastille being the 1790s equivalent of Occupy today.)

Now to my story: Today in the New York Times, Matt Richtel develops his thought experiment for how to liberate marriage from that bastille experience. He proposes to a set of family researchers the notion of a 20-year marriage contract in “Till Death, or 20 Years, Do Us Part.”

Seems like everyone he interviewed thought marriage—and ideas about marriage—could use some revision. Pepper Schwartz ripely noted, “We’re remarkably not innovative about marriage even though almost all the environmental conditions, writ large, have changed…We haven’t scrutinized it. We’ve been picking at it like a scab, and it’s not going to heal that way.” The upshot was that marriage still is Occupied, and in important ways a prison for our imaginations.

My own proposal focused on getting rid of a lot of marriage fantasies that are represented in the commercial hype around marriage—very Wollstonecraft-ish, right? There might be something to that: wedding hype seems to bring out a lot of the gender cartoons that Wollstonecraft railed against. But is that anti romantic? Not in the way that I mean it.

I don’t think that getting rid of old-school marriage fantasies means not being romantic, not being hopeful, not being tender, committed, loyal, tolerant of bad days, exuberant about good days. What interests me are ways to cultivate romance and commitment in a context where partners recognize that the choice to participate in marriage, to remain, day in and day out, is something that makes it more fantastic, not less. Marriage, in this view, becomes mindful. And the reality is that marriage is a choice day in and day out, for a lot of reasons cogently reviewed in Matt Richtel’s column.

Same-sex partners, who until recently haven’t had access to marriage, have often been forced to forge more imaginative, more mindful unions. Now, as we edge towards marriage equality, everyone gets to see unions that take the sweet traditions of marriage, the fun, the legitimacy, and the somber commitment of it, but perhaps less often encumbered with the baggage of the bastille Wollstonecraft spoke of in heterosexual marriage.

As for me: I’m not married. When I was married, my vows included none of that “till death do you part” stuff; instead we pledged to remain interesting to each other. And we did. Till the day my husband died. And then some.

-Virginia Rutter

Two amazing young gender and sexualities scholars stepped up to offer a column this month on what I have dubbed “the real BDSM.” Heidi Rademacher and Suzan Walters are PhD students in sociology at Stony Brook University. Heidi has an MA from Brandeis in sociology and women & gender studies; Suzan has an MA from St. John’s University. They are working on a longer critique of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy that explores women’s experiences with BDSM, and offer this preview. Now to Heidi and Suzan on BDSM:

Are you, like many women, completely in awe of the incredibly sexy, powerful and accomplished Christian Grey?  Are you contemplating how to bring that orgasmic sex into your bedroom as illustrated throughout the bestselling trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey? If so, let us tell you what you really need to know before you strap up and get your whip on!

Fifty Shades of Grey has captured the imagination of women worldwide. The trilogy tells the “unconventional” love story between Christian Grey (closeted BDSM practitioner) and the young and innocent Anastasia Steele, who falls in love with him and his sexual prowess.

Within the first six weeks of sales in the US, over ten million copies were sold. As of September 2 , 2012, E. L. James’ controversial books are still holding strong at the top of the New York Times Best Seller list for fiction. The first two books of the trilogy (Fifty Shades of Grey and Fifty Shades Darker) have held the top two spots for 25 consecutive weeks. The third book, Fifty Shades Freed, has been ranked third for 24 weeks.

This trilogy brings this alternative sexual life style into public consciousness in perhaps a way no other mainstream book has. But, how well does it illustrate the real BDSM world? A few clarifications will help you decide.

The first thing you need to know is that unlike Grey’s practice, people involved in BDSM often form communities. In Staci Newmahr’s book Playing on the Edge we learn that these communities are generally local groups that are tied (no pun intended) to larger organizations located throughout the US and the world.

People gather in clubs or dungeons because these spaces provide the equipment that we read about in Grey’s playroom (the average non-billionaire BDSM practitioner cannot afford in-home playrooms). But also, such locations provide a space where people share experiences, form networks and take on roles.

Some members of the community serve as educators and provide workshops to teach others how to perform sexual acts and how to be a member of the community. They eat meals together, talk online, have private and public gatherings, etc. What is important to know is that BDSM rarely happens in isolation. As you may gather from this short explanation, communities serve a much larger purpose than just providing playrooms.

Second, the unequal power relations between BDSM partners are generally confined to a scene. A scene is an individual BDSM act. This might be surprising if your only exposure to BDSM is through this trilogy. When Grey (the dominant) proposes the BDSM contract to Ana (the submissive) we read that she is supposed to obey him always and in everything because she is to be his property. She must have at least seven hours of sleep each night, wear certain attire, always be clean shaven and/or waxed, go to beauty salons chosen by Grey. She is not allowed to masturbate unless permitted by Grey. She has to eat a diet that he has constructed, be on a strict exercise regimen, and never look Grey in the eyes unless it is at his request.

This is not common practice in the BDSM community. Instead, according to research conducted by Dr. Charles Moser at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, there is a very small population of BDSM participants who engage in what is called 24/7 relationships and Total Power Exchanges (TPE)—the arrangement Grey initially proposes to Ana in the  Fifty Shades series. In a 24/7 relationship the dominant and submissive both consent to maintain their roles in all aspects of their everyday activities, both sexual and non-sexual. In these relationships there is a TPE, which provides the dominant with complete authority over the submissive’s actions, behaviors and decisions. While 24/7 relationships and TPE are part of the BDSM spectrum, they represent a very small number of practitioners and are even somewhat stigmatized and taboo within the larger BDSM community.

We suspect that TPE and 24/7 relationships are not all they are hyped up to be. In fact, we think ways in which BDSM is portrayed in the Fifty Shades trilogy is suspect. In a recent NY Post article we learn of a real life banker who leads the double life that Grey does. But this story does not end with love, marriage and a baby carriage like the trilogy. Instead, it ends in a heart-shattering break up and violence.

Thus, what we read in Fifty Shades of Grey is even more fictional than we might have originally thought. For now, we’ve given you some of what we’d like you to know about BDSM. What we want to know is why is the low-base rate TPE so popular–in fiction?

Heidi Rademacher and Suzan Walters

The end of the baby boom years is identified variously as 1960 all the way to 1964. This means that while the lead-end of baby boomers are hitting 65 around now, at the tail, where I am, I’m flooded with fiftieth birthday events. Aging, anyone?

So I talked a little bit with Ashton Applewhite about aging. Ashton, who just turned 60, has been working on aging and ageism for over 5 years. She blogs about her research at stayingvertical.com, and her newest online project is yoisthisageist.com. Read it! It’s funny and informative.

NW: Yo is this ageist? seems to aim at what people expect from older people, whom you call “olders.” What do people want from olders, anyway?

AA: People want olders to quit fumbling for their change at the supermarket and holding up the line. The trick is to become what I call an “old person in training” – to acknowledge that if you’re lucky that person in line will be you some day. It makes room for empathy, which changes everything. And it enables us to envision and work towards the kind of late life we want.

NW: The top entry yesterday on Yo This is Ageist was a joke: Four yentas go to lunch at the Fountainebleu and the waiter says, “Welcome ladies! Is anything alright?” You confirm on your blog that, yes, this is ageist and anti-semitic. Also sexist, right? Seems like age and gender are two sneaky sources of inequality: what’s your favorite sneaky source of ageism?

AA: Our own prejudices, the ageist values that we internalize without even realizing it. Today a question came in from a reader who’s the same age her mother was when she was born, “but when I talk about having kids, she seems to freak out. She seems to be clinging on to the idea of being young by avoiding impending grandmother-hood, senior discounts, etc.”

I’m lucky enough to have two grandchildren, and they’re a source of extraordinary joy. Yet this woman’s internalized ageism is so powerful that she’s stiff-arming the prospect and alienating her daughter lest it make her “seem old.” When we talk about women “having it all,” we mean having to choose between raising kids and building a career. How about extending the argument and the time frame, so that older women don’t have to choose between being hot and being grandmothers?

NW: It seems pretty clear men get judged as they age differently from how women get judged as they age; both groups are subject to bias, but about different things. So what would be a sign of reducing the gender bias in aging bias, if you know what I mean?

AA: Many older women living alone end up in poverty for the first time in their lives. In retirement, forty percent have to make ends meet on Social Security alone. How about closing the wage gap and reforming Social Security so that it’s not geared towards married, single-earner families and women aren’t penalized for their years out of the workforce caring for others?

NW: Oh gosh, make the younger world less sexist and heteronormative and that will translate up the age scale. Nice work, no?

AA: I’d like that. One thing that’s struck me is that despite the fact that gender is overwhelmingly binary (almost everyone identifies as male or female), the concept of gender as a spectrum has gained widespread acceptance. If gender can be conceived of fluidly, why not age? It’s obviously a spectrum: we’re all younger than some people and older than others. Yet we unthinkingly accept a young/old binary — or more accurately a young/no-longer-young binary — that frames two thirds of our lives as decline. That’s grotesque. We made enormous progress against sexism and racism and homophobia in the 20th century, and I’d like to see the same kind of consciousness-raising and mobilization against ageism now.

NW: What are some of your favorite examples of successful aging for women?

AA: All aging is successful, because otherwise you’re dead: living means aging. There’s no “best” or “right” way to age; each of us will make different accommodations and find different meanings. It’s great to hear about nonagenarians skydiving or Betty White, but it would be nuts to measure ourselves against these outliers. I think women have an intrinsic advantage when it comes to aging because most of us have had to adapt to circumstances – motherhood, a partner’s career changes, discriminatory workplaces, menopause – and getting older just puts another set of curves in the road.

ps. For fun, read Virginia’s question at yoisthisagist and Ashton’s answer. “But you don’t look…[your awkwardly high age]….”

-Virginia Rutter

What to do when I read a study that so appeals to my worldview that I want to shout it out? Should I just kinda act cool, not let on that I wanna say, I knew it! See? SEE?!!!! That is how it is. We all have biases and preferences and a worldview that shape how we process information. And we all have choices about what to do with them. And that brings me to a study about how dudes in traditional marriages have traditional views that influence their judgments at work, too.

In a new working paper called “Marriage Structure and Resistance to the Gender Revolution in the Workplace” (.pdf), three business school professors investigate why, despite notable progress, the gender revolution appears to have “petered out.”  (An accessible overview of just this puzzle from the Council on Contemporary Families is in Gender Revolution? Or Not So Much.)

The new paper is novel: it asked, is it is possible that there are well-placed pockets of resistance in the workplace that help account for impeded progress? The authors hypothesized that, perhaps, men in cross-sex marriages with stay-at-home wives might have a different view of women in the workplace than married men with full-time working wives.

They hypothesized correctly. In particular, they found that (1) men in traditional marriages (MITM) had more negative attitudes towards working women (controlling for selection!); (2) MITM perceived the workplace as running less smoothly when more women worked there; (3) MITM also found more gender-egalitarian organizations less attractive; and (4) MITM, when asked to rate the quality of workers who were exactly equivalent, rated women lower than men. They controlled for selection (or the way it might be that sexist guys at work choose traditional marriages rather than guys being influenced by their traditional marriages to have traditional views at work) and for education (more educated guys espouse more ostensibly feminist views).

The study excited me because it provided support for that sinking feeling that some of us can have when working with guys who lead traditional private lives. At work, it can seem, they just don’t “get it.” Hard to put one’s finger on it. But they keep doing stuff like thanking their wives for all they do at home, thinking that this shows their respect for women.

The study also excited me because it was an example of the kind of research that I was talking about when I wrote about the neglect of men as focal points for research on gender, and my suspicion that the neglect stems from a sneaky sensibility that men’s vantage point is natural and therefore can go without examination. But without investigating the impact traditional marriages on work practices (instead of the more common investigation of egalitarian marriages on home practices), we are at risk of naturalizing “traditional” just as we naturalize “men.” To understand how gender operates, it helps to look at men at the center of power not just those at the margins. And this study did so.

Perhaps now you see the irony that I felt when I noticed my enthusiasm. The study shows how worldview lines up with personal life. This might influence your judgment at work. Back in the day, feminists said the personal is political. Thing is, the personal is political for everyone, including those who follow conventions. Even for those who don’t believe in this stuff. That means the personal is political, too, for MITM (the M is silent, by the way).

-Virginia Rutter

There’s this recent study that shows that in countries with higher divorce risk, married women work more hours than in countries with lower divorce risk. The same study looks at how married men work more when the tax rate is lower, and work less when the tax rate is higher. The study, using data from the US and Europe, was done by a trio of economists, and can be read here, and it is cited in Freakonomics here.

The authors were curious about why people in the US work more than those in Europe. They start with this: on average, people in the US work more than people in Europe—one study shows the difference is 30 percent more; other studies show how little vacation time, paid sick leave, or family leave that the US has relative to European countries—although the current recession may end up reducing these differences.

Sure enough, divorce rates plus tax rates told the story. Even cooler, the explanation was much clearer when they divided their data up into menfolk and womenfolk. Men’s labor varied with tax rates, though women’s did not. When tax rates were relatively low, as in the United States, men worked more hours, when tax rates were relatively high, as in Belgium, men worked fewer hours. No such variation existed for women. Meanwhile women’s labor varied with divorce rates, but not men’s. So high divorce rates, more women’s work hours–as in the USA. Low divorce rates, fewer women’s work hours–as in Ireland. No such pattern existed for men; divorce rates didn’t matter.

The authors interpret their results like this:

We believe [women’s work pattern] is because marriage provides an implicit social insurance since the spouses are able to share their income. However, if divorce rates are higher in a society, women have a higher incentive to obtain work experience in case they find themselves alone in the future. The reason the incentive is higher is because in our data, women happen to be the second earner in the household more often than men. European women anticipate not getting divorced as often and hence find less reason to insure themselves by working as much as American women.

And the study was covered with enthusiasm in Freakonomics, “Why do American Women Work More…?” A tour of coverage in the blogosphere highlighted the “woman’s predicament” foregrounded by this interesting study, here and here, for example. (A counter example that included a look at both sides of the equation is here.)

I liked the study. Still, the way the study gets talked about you’d think it was only about women’s behavior, not about men’s behavior, too, or about what it means for humans. Men did not respond to divorce rates but did respond to tax rates. Yet there was no curiosity about that. Men were being taken for granted. And so was the logic of labor markets, marriage, and patriarchy. And so was the economic model that treats as “normal” (and normative) that people will maximize income unless policy has messed things up.

You hardly even notice that it is happening, but this is the kind of thing that happens all the time. In this story, men’s behavior gets treated as if it is “natural.” The baseline is that men are expected to respond to tax rates, and are normal because they do so. And now we have to figure out those puzzling women. They are kind of like men in that they go to work, but they don’t work the same as men. What’s up with that? When it comes to labor market behavior, men are treated as the “normal” or “control” category and women as the “experimental” category.

So who cares? I’ll tell you: if you give yourself time to interpret men’s as well as women’s behavior in this study you start to understand what men and women have in common. Perhaps from this view it will emerge for you as has for me that this study looks like it is about “safety nets.” The role of the government in many European countries has been to provide basic security for all citizens. That’s where higher taxes over there go–universal health care, child-care, more generous retirement and unemployment benefits, and other social services and income supports. Lower taxes mean fewer public services and not much of a safety net.

So in this study I see marriage as another kind of safety net–as do most of those who interpreted the study. The safety net interpretation is one with deep roots. The breadwinner/homemaker model was the 19th century version of “social safety net” complete with a “family wage” for the breadwinner man to support a homemaker woman to take care of home production as well as to be a live-in psychologist to the breadwinner, a gentle voice who would soften the angry blows of the harsh world outside the home. (That’s how they talked about it then.) And even though not all families had a family wage, the model was idealized and seared into social and economic policy, especially in the United States. In fact so much so that it continues to play a role today, as the US marriage movement highlights.

Though the traditional imagery hangs around, the reality hasn’t existed for nearly 40 years. We don’t have a family wage anymore; instead, families keep their heads above water in the US by having two earners.

So, watch out for your implicit comparison group. Watch out for what gets cast as normal. Ideas about normal can get in the way of seeing possibility, and seeing things as they really are, or at least seeing things from more than one point of view.

The study wasn’t talked about in terms of the unifying theme of safety netting. It talked about a story of how “women are different.” Look, women aren’t like men, they don’t respond to taxes the way men do. And the way the men’s side of the story is told—well it isn’t really told but implied—is that men constitute the “comparison group” the natural worker, who responds to the labor market in the way that “we expect.” What I expect, as I think about this study, is that men and women will feel more ease when there is more of a safety net for all.

-Virginia Rutter