Guest poster and historian Bridgette Sheridan from Framingham State University weighs in on the magic of science. She posted at GWP last fall about dirty sex.

There’s another new book out about – you guessed it – sex.  A Billion Wicked Thoughts, according to an article in the Daily Beast, “reveals some surprising facts about what turns us on—and what separates men and women’s desires.”

According to the Daily Beast, the authors used web searches, websites, personal ads, and porn, among other data, to discover that:

  • If you can imagine it, it exists (though most people desire a lot of the same stuff when it comes to sex)
  • Men are wired to objectify (though every so often they surprise us)
  • Women aren’t easy to figure out (though we do know that “Women need to feel comfortable and safe and desired as well as physically attracted.”)

All that research and these are the highlights? Perhaps this goes to show that we like to have “data” back up what we already believe to be true. Let me give you an example: in the 16th and 17th centuries, as scientists began to question ancient medical theory by experimentation and “seeing for themselves,” many of them found, in the body, what they’d known all along: that women were inherently inferior to men. They found it IN THE BODY. And it was scientific so it had to be true.

Do I think that scientific exploration has led to discoveries that have improved our lives? Yes. I benefit from them daily. Do I think that scientific outcomes can sometimes be shaped by cultural norms? Yes. Do I think the Daily Beast’s breathless reporting on this book is a case of that? Yes.

But what do I know? I’m just a historian. Maybe I should collect some data before I tell you what I think.

-Bridgette Sheridan


You can read about Peggy Schmitt again here.

Speaking of Superwoman, today at Framingham State University Stephanie Coontz is coming to campus: that is a highlight! A low light this week, feels like, is the airing of Waiting for Superman – that’s the anti-teachers union documentary that pulls heartstrings, and, as Diane Ravitch discusses in the New York Review of Books, misrepresents a lot about charter schools and teachers unions. A column in the NYRB, no matter how smart, doesn’t have the emotional impact of a documentary. Ravitch summarizes the American disappointment in education that underlies the film, and notes,

At last we have the culprit on which we can pin our anger, our palpable sense that something is very wrong with our society, that we are on the wrong track, and that America is losing the race for global dominance. It is not globalization or deindustrialization or poverty or our coarse popular culture or predatory financial practices that bear responsibility: it’s the public schools, their teachers, and their unions.

I’m banking on some grounded dialogue at my school on Waiting for Superman that can overcome the intense manipulation we’ve been receiving these days regarding the public sector and teachers. You can check out the American Federation of Teachers site on this topic. And Not Waiting for Superman recently has provided considerable material related to the war in Wisconsin; “Not Waiting” was founded by Rethinking Schools “to talk back to the film and support efforts by teachers, students, and parents to improve and preserve public education.”

Here’s the concern about WFS: As Ravitch notes about the film’s celebration of the success of charter schools:

Some fact-checking is in order, and the place to start is with the film’s quiet acknowledgment that only one in five charter schools is able to get the “amazing results” that it celebrates.

She goes on regarding the function of such a film,

Why propound to an unknowing public the myth that charter schools are the answer to our educational woes, when the filmmaker knows that there are twice as many failing charters as there are successful ones? Why not give an honest accounting?

I don’t know the answer. But here’s the deal: there is a discourse of going after teachers, and teachers are disproportionately women. As part of the ongoing “war on the public sector” that I wrote about last month, the anti-union rhetoric in general seems all mixed up with anti-woman sentiments. Women make up a higher percentage of public sector unions overall, and especially teacher unions. According to 2010 data from the Current Population Survey analyzed for GWP by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, women were 56 percent of all unionized public sector workers. For more information see CEPR’s state by state review of public sector union participation. You can see a girlwpen dialogue on the benefits of unions to women here.

I am not waiting for Superwoman. I already know a lot of Superwomen–and Supermen, my fellow teachers.

Virginia Rutter

The war on the public sector is very personal. As a public sector worker — I teach at a state university — I am a state employee and a member of a teachers union. Even a little bit of the dismissive, contemptuous and ignorant rhetoric that I hear about public sector workers goes a long way with me. I mean, I love my job; I work hard and it feels good. But a co-worker and I laugh that if our private sector professional friends knew how little we make they would be sooo uncomfortable. But the point is I am grateful to have job security, good health insurance, employee rights like due process and collective bargaining, and I feel good working in an institution where all the other people I work with have the same thing.

What does this have to do with women? The Institute for Women’s Policy Research just published a fact sheet on men and women in the public sector. Women make up 43 percent of federal workers; 52 percent of state workers; and 61 percent of local workers. The war against the public sector is a war against women workers. But it is also a war against workers of color, specifically African American workers. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (unpublished analysis of Current Population Survey 2010), while 10.7 percent of all workers are African American, 14.3 percent of public sector workers are.

In the next week or so, I’l post a few questions and answers about the public sector puzzles, like why is it a “war”?… what about “Waiting for Superman”?… what is collective bargaining anyway?… why don’t you care about the deficit?…and we’ll see what else comes up. Another question I will write about is why should women in particular or workers in general care about the assault on public sector workers’ rights if they are in the private sector?

-Virginia Rutter

Here’s a review of (some of the many!) reviews of Stephanie Coontz’s A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s.

Was Coontz Dissing or Loving TFM?(Answer: Neither)

In the Wall Street Journal online, Melanie Kirkpatrick notes,

Ms. Coontz is clearly a fan of the book, and she quotes many early readers who said that The Feminine Mystique gave them the courage to pursue their dreams.

She highlights some of the debunking that Coontz’s book accomplishes, such as the myths that TFM was man-bashing or that Friedan was an apolitical housewife. It is a nice, uncritical connection to the story of TFM and A Strange Stirring.

A puzzling contrast was in the Washington Post (included in the print edition), where Elaine Showalter is troubled by Coontz’s story of her own (ambivalent) relationship to TFM because it didn’t match Showalter’s positive experience. Coontz, who isn’t one to reply to reviews too often, responded to the Post in a letter to the editor. In it, Coontz points out that while in 1963 Showalter was going through a very similar experience to that of Friedan (young, married with children), Coontz, though just a few years younger, was still at college, not in the job market, not in the domestic world, and thus the themes of TFM did not touch her personally (the way, for example, the civil rights movement did, which was where Coontz focused her stunningly intense sixties-style activist energies.)

The resolution between those first two reviews—was Coontz dissing or loving TFM?–came in Rebecca Traister’s New York Times Sunday Book Review. Traister recounts Coontz’s personal journey with TFM and how, along with her concerns for those women whose experiences were not represented by TFM, she still came to value it. Traister writes:

Halfway through A Strange Stirring, the social historian Stephanie Coontz — parsing the reception of The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan’s 1963 examination of middle-class female repression and despair — confesses to feeling some ambivalence over Friedan’s project, and hence her own.

Acknowledging the working-class and minority women left out of Friedan’s best seller, Coontz admits that while it is “pointless to construct a hierarchy of who hurt more,” her own initial reaction to Friedan’s elite scope “was to dismiss the pain of the middle-class housewives as less ‘real’ than that of their working-class sisters.

Traister then describes how Coontz herself reconciles the “dissing vs loving” issue, by recounting a dialogue Coontz had had with TFM-loving colleague.

It didn’t matter, [Coontz’s colleague had said to her], that the women Friedan wrote about weren’t “representative either in size or even aspirations of most American women of their time.” What mattered was that they had spent “years of their lives with their noses pressed against the proverbial glass — looking in at a world that they would never be a part of.”

For a Traister personal bonus, the New York Times online includes an interview with Rebecca Traister about her own reflections on The Feminine Mystique. The interview highlights Traister’s connection with Coontz’s ambivalence, and offers her reflections on TFM. Such reflections on TFM across multiple generations (and microgenerations like Showalter vs Coontz)spurred on by SS are among my favorite benefits of this Strange Stirring phenomenon, as you can see in my own reflection and interviews with two men in their seventies here at Girlwpen.

Reviewers’ reflections on SS and TFM repeatedly engaged their own stories. When you read the reviews of A Strange Stirring, you’ll see how people write from their personal as well as their intellectual perspectives–sometimes without total self-awareness, but still, it reminds me of how much that linking of personal, political, and intellectual is part of what feminism is all about, what it gives us.

What are the uses of a book? (Answer: They are totemic, but that doesn’t tell us whether they cause movements…like the Women’s Movement)

At Ms Magazine online Carol King focused on historical context (“If you were to pick up The Feminine Mystique today, I suspect you’d wonder what all the fuss was about”) and writes appreciatively of the contextualizing of the Mad Men type experience of many of the women depicted in TFM, and those whom Coontz interviewed for SS. She concludes:

There would have been a Women’s Movement without The Feminine Mystique, but there would have been holes where those women described in the book should have been.

A variation on King’s point was in Louis Menand’s essay in The New Yorker. The essay provides a great review of many of the women’s movement publications around the time of TFM—which I had already read about in Coontz’s book. But the best part is where Menand argues “Why the Women’s Movement Needed Betty Friedan.” He picks an argument with Coontz around her assessment of the American reception of De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and also with her contention that the cultural shift towards the Women’s Movement preceded TFM, rather than followed it. But he makes Coontz’s case any way, as well as a wonderful case for the value of books as a cultural intervention. Here’s how: Menand includes TFM with several other books like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring that made a difference because, as he says, “books became totems.”

These are books whose significance exceeds anything they actually said. For many people, it doesn’t even matter what they said or why they were written. What matters is that, when the world turned, they were there.

Yes! The books were there for people to point to to express the ideas that they were already starting to have.

In Bitch Magazine Eryn Loeb wrote a delightful reflection on the imagery of The Feminine Mystique (very Mad Men, very old issues of Good Housekeeping). The images help to conjure the myths of womanhood and the myths of TFM from the earlier era. Then, she draws our attention to Coontz’s skillful work on decomposing those myths—and links this myth-busting to Coontz’s body of work, especially The Way We Never Were and Marriage, A History. Loeb concludes with another important point. See, Coontz, like people Coontz interviewed, didn’t even realize that she hadn’t read the book “back in the day.” Still, it had stuck with her, and many others. Loeb notes:

The book’s legendary status had eclipsed its actual content. In some ways, this is a triumph: Friedan’s salvo for women’s liberation has been so effectively distilled and shared in the 47 years since its release that there’s no need to actually sit down and read 350-plus pages. As long as we get the gist of it, do the specifics really matter?

Where are women—and men—today? (Answer: “In it together”)

Tracy Clark-Flory’s interview with Stephanie Coontz for focuses on “Why Feminism Was Good for Marriage.” The interview highlights links between growing gender equality and improvements in marriage, adding a coda to Coontz’s Marriage,A History. The interview links up what Coontz wrote in SS to how she sees gender and feminism today. Message: A big piece of it has to do with keeping men—working men, caregiving men, and really all men—in the equation.

And if you want to hear more of Coontz on where are men and women today—in relation to what she wrote about in A Strange Stirring—listen to her interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

…there’s more: I can only imagine what will be the lesson from Coontz’s interview on The Colbert Report later this month (slated for 2/23/11). But I bet it will have something to do with men and women “these days.”

What else? (Answer: It keeps coming!)

I’ll keep adding links here to other reviews and interviews, but here are a few more I found useful:

History News Network: “Puncturing Betty Friedan, but Not the Mystique: An Interview with Stephanie Coontz”: This engaging interview gives more details about how Coontz did her research.

The Feministing Five: Stephanie Coontz: Chloe Angyal presents a thoughtful, more personal interview with Coontz.

Virginia Rutter

This week, Girlw/Pen writers are posting on Stephanie Coontz‘s new book, A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s, which is a biography of Betty Friedan’s iconic book, The Feminine Mystique. Coontz explores the impact of Friedan’s work through archival research and interviews with nearly 200 women and men who read the book when it came out in 1963. A Strange Stirring makes the story of feminism contextual, approachable, personal…and hopeful. I’m a scholar of this area, but Coontz’s book put me in touch with The Feminine Mystique and the generation’s experience it documented, and gave me a way into conversations that I suspect will be part of the book’s impact on many people who read this accessible, compelling book.

While reading A Strange Stirring, the people I wanted to talk to were men who were becoming adults back then. So, I asked two dear friends, one born in 1935, the other born in 1940, to tell me their experiences around the publication of Friedan’s TFM in 1963.

They read my columns at GWP, so they knew where I am coming from. They are white, college-educated, professional men who have lived comfortable though not always peaceful lives, and when The Feminine Mystique was published, each was married and raising their families of late-wave baby boomers. “Mad Men” might give you a pretty good picture of the world they lived and worked in. Indeed, every time I watch that show, I map the experience depicted there onto the way I imagine the wallpaper of these men’s minds (as well as these men’s wives.) That said, these guys were not boozing or philandering (as far as I know!), and only one of them was smoking. (And you can thank Coontz’s column for making the “Mad Men” connection so clear to me.)

What they said made me confident that the message of The Feminine Mystique was a legitimate one in its time. One of my friends said:

Looking back, I recall how different I assumed women were from men. For me, the Human Race had two types of participants: men and women. Both were members of the Race but men were the real representatives and transmitters of the Race. Women were a necessary and wonderful part of the Race but they were not “real” members (you should pardon the expression). So, I saw all women through the prism of “different,” and implicitly inferior because they were not “equal.” Women were similar but not the “same.”

My other friend put it more starkly: He said: “I was one of those arch male-chauvinist pigs that one used to hear about. When TFM first came out, I readily dismissed it in that I heard (never read it) all kinds of things — the usual anti-family etc. [claims].”

Then they described how they changed. In their recounting, their change came as a consequence of their experiences with women at work who were competent, capable, ambitious, serious-minded. Out in the world—with more and more women out there too—these two men were able to learn that women had sexual desires that were no different from what they understood “men’s desire” to be. And from what I know about my two friends, they continued to work in their professional lives from the 1970s to the present to counteract sexism in hiring, to promote women in leadership, and to mentor young women (like me!) with the same tenacity and high standards that they mentored young men.

But here’s the other piece, and it brings us back to Coontz’s book: these guys recalled the past with some regret, managing with dignity to fight against being defensive. This was a “touchy subject” they said. They “simmered” before answering my questions. I think that was because they had been contained in the same culture that Friedan’s women were. The conversation we opened moves me, and gives me hints of just how much change there has been (as Coontz writes) and also why and how after so much progress gender inequality can persist…and be so sneaky.

A Strange Stirring rightly reminds us about Friedan’s neglect of racism, economic inequality, and homophobia. Coontz writes about her skepticism at the beginning of her project about the The Feminine Mystique because of these absences: but she concludes that the work speaks to a common experience, and made a meaningful, progressive, and humane difference in the lives of many women. I would suggest also in the lives of many men.

Coontz gives us the means to recall the past with full understanding and compassion for women and for men. I think dialogues about the status of women in society and about feminism will improve, thanks to this book. Stephanie Coontz has quite a track record for doing so with her other books (such as The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap and Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage) as well as her public education endeavors with the Council on Contemporary Families.

Stay tuned for more on Coontz and A Strange Stirring this week.

-Virginia Rutter

What we know: the dudes are getting better at childcare and housework, and the ladies are easing off. But are they undoing gender? If so, how much? Men have increased the average amount of childcare and housework they do each week from 12, in 1965, to 21, in 2000. Meanwhile, women have decreased their hours in the same tasks from 53 to 41 hours. Also note that these days, women now provide about 43 percent of household income.

So, there’s progress. It even looks like “convergence.” But there’s “something” that keeps dragging us back into the past, into unequal shares of domestic work, that gives us the feeling that there may be more for us to look at than counting hours of care and percentage points of household income.

Take the case of sleep. New research in Gender & Society (abstract) illustrates how even in dual-earner families, men’s sleep takes priority over women’s sleep. Sleep is valuable for short term health and mental functioning and long-term well-being related to things like immune function and maintaining a healthy weight. Sleep matters.

How’d they learn this? Sociologists David Maume, Rachel Sebastian (University of Cincinnati) and Anthony Bardo (Miami University) interviewed 25 white, two-earner, heterosexual families where at least one partner was employed in the food services industry. Partners were interviewed separately in order to learn about how these families organize their sleep routines.

The women wake up more because they are largely the “default parent.” That means they wake up for the kids, for problem solving, for doing things for the men. The men’s paid work (and their need to be rested for it) took priority. The women even expected themselves—and the men they were with expected them—to stick around in the “marital bed” even when the men’s snoring kept them awake. In the mornings, men woke up refreshed, women woke up tired, just in time to rejoin an endless cycle of falling behind and playing catch up again.

Any exceptions? Overall the researchers found that of the 25 couples they interviewed, 4 qualified as equal partners—where men and women were similarly engaged in all kinds of childcare and domestic work. The remainder were couples that were “pragmatic egalitarians”–accepting the practical necessity of both partner’s working. For these couples the men were committed to gender essentialism—a deep seated belief that women really are the appropriate and natural caregivers at home. You know, the “they’re better at it” view. They also found that some of the women held a “family first philosophy” and the rest spent time worrying about their partner’s qualifications for caring.

So, there’s something about sleep here, but there’s something about marriage here, too. While all of these couples had some features that looked like they were “egalitarian,” they weren’t living up to the dream. That seems to be harder than we thought. Back in the 1990s Pepper Schwartz looked for truly egalitarian couples when she did her research on peer marriage. She found a lot of couples who thought they were egalitarian, but they were what she called “near peers,” recreating subtle and not so subtle versions of traditional gender roles. Let’s celebrate the changes since Schwartz’s Love Between Equals – there’s more convergence of roles and opportunities for men and women in families with each passing year. But let’s stay on the look out, as Maume and colleagues did, for the ways that couples recreate gender inequality.

Virginia Rutter

The first study of California’s paid family leave (PFL) program details just how well it works for employers as well as families. Through California’s Paid Family Leave, eligible employees receive up to six weeks of wage replacement at 55 percent of their usual earnings to bond with a new child or care for a seriously ill family member. It is funded solely by employees paying into the program.

You can read Center for Economic Policy and Research’s Eileen Appelbaum and UCLA/CUNY’s Ruth Milkman’s report for the details but here are a few highlights:

A representative sample of 253 employers and 500 employees using PFL were surveyed in 2009-2010. Appelbaum and Milkman found that an overwhelming majority reported good results. Here’s what employers reported:

  • 89 percent said that PFL had either a “positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on productivity.
  • For 91 percent, profitability/performance was neutral or positively affected.
  • 96 percent reported a positive of neutral effect on turnover
  • 99 percent (!) reported positive or neutral effects on employee morale
  • 91 percent said “No” when asked if they were aware of any employee abuses of the program.

And from workers, a few highlights include:

  • 84 percent of those in low-quality jobs using paid family leave received at least half of their usual pay while on leave.
  • Only 41 percent of workers in low-quality jobs not using PFL received any pay while on leave
  • The rate of bonding claims filed by men has climbed steadily since the beginning of PFL.
  • Duration of breastfeeding among new mothers who used PFL also increased.

The report explains, “According to California’s Employment Development Department, in FY 09-10, 167,253 Californians used Paid Family Leave for bonding with new children and 23,220 used it to provide care for seriously ill family members.” Even so, one of the biggest problems they report is that too few people know they are eligible to participate. According to the report, “half the workers interviewed did not know the program existed, despite having had a qualifying circumstance for which to use PFL; low-wage workers, immigrants, and Latinos were least likely to be aware of the program.”

-Virginia Rutter

When men have children they start earning more—it’s the “daddy bonus.” The size of the bonus? About 11 percent of average earnings across a wide variety of educational, racial and ethnic characteristics. It begs some good questions, and sociologists Melissa Hodges and Michelle Budig at UMass Amherst have answered a lot of them in their recent Gender & Society article, “Who Gets the Daddy Bonus? Organizational Hegemonic Masculinity and the Impact of Fatherhood on Earnings” (abstract).

For example, you might ask, is the daddy bonus because men who are better at earning are also more likely to have kids? This is called the selection hypothesis, and Hodges and Budig’s analysis says “no.” In fact, having children creates a reversal of fortunes, a case of “negative selection.” The dudes who have kids have characteristics that suggest lower earning, not higher earning. But they end up turning it around when the babies arrive.

Is it because dads start to work more? When men become fathers they do work more. But that doesn’t produce the daddy bonus. Instead, the authors found that being married to a woman (a marriage bonus) accounted for about one-half of the increased earnings. Unmarried dads? No daddy bonus.

Is it because dads benefit from the breadwiner/caregiver model? Research sometimes shows that when wives de-emphasize market work (part time work or staying home) this is associated with men’s higher earnings (you can see a case of it here). Not so for whites and African Americans in this study, though it was true for Latinos. The “marriage bonus” for all groups, however, may relate to having the benefits of the extra share of domestic work that wives tend to do regardless of labor market participation.

Does everyone get the daddy bonus? Yes and no. All fathers, regardless of race and ethnicity, gain a wage advantage. But look at this: white dads received an 8.3 percent bonus, black dads a 7.3 percent bonus, and Latino dads a 9.2 percent bonus.

The authors explain: “Most men experience gendered advantages in the labor market, but not all men are equally privileged…. Men’s ability to capture the ‘patriarchal dividend’–privileges and rewards accruing to men by virtue of living in a gender-unequal society–varies by their other status characteristics….” What they are talking about is “hegemonic masculinity.” Think of it as the “war within the sexes” – you can read more about it here.

Hegemonic masculinity is a big term for a concept that we all know intuitively: that being a good man gets blended together with other cultural norms to amplify male privilege for some men more than others. As Joan Williams has explained so well, we think the “ideal worker” (you can find a discussion of here) is gender neutral. But work is organized so that people who don’t have competing responsibilities–for example, for the kids–fit in better than people who have work-family conflicts. And those people, overwhelmingly (though not always) are men. Indeed, many of the cultural norms relate to work, others relate to heterosexuality. The effect is that it just seems obvious who has “earned” their rewards.

Hodges and Budig found that the fatherhood bonus is bigger for white men in professional/managerial positions, for white men and Latinos with college degrees, white men in occupations that emphasized mental activity more than physical activity, white men and Latinos in jobs that de-emphasized strength, and (as mentioned above) Latino men with more economically dependent spouses.

So, all men benefit from college education (though the benefits aren’t so great for everybody, as you can read here), and all men benefit from fatherhood. But fatherhood benefits for college educated white men is about 21 percent, Latino men 19 percent, and African American men is 7.3 percent (no different from the benefit for non-college educated African American dads).

The authors sum it up: “…the effect of becoming a father is another source of privilege for privileged men, but less so for men who are in more socially disadvantaged positions.” So, if you were looking for an example of “hegemonic masculinity,” now you have one.

-Virginia Rutter

We love to puzzle over the rise in employment for women vs the decline in employment for men. Is it about psychology? (Leads to speculation about men’s feelings of inadequacy.) Is it interpersonal? (Ends in “what does this mean for marriage?”… or how can we relate this to attachment parenting, [ffs]?).

But the big, giant, huge social forces of racism plus capitalism might help too: to wit, today the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) has published an analysis of Bureau of Justice Statistics data that indicates that incarceration in America reduces our male employment rate by 1.5 to 1.7 percent. The paper, “Ex-Offenders and the Labor Market,” follows the CEPR’s paper “The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration” that was released last June.

Each year we produce around 700,000 “ex-offenders” … and those people’s prospects on the job market are undermined. Meanwhile, more than 90 percent of those ex-offenders are men. And a disproportionate number of them are African American.

“It isn’t just that we have the highest incarceration rate in the world, we have created a situation over the last 30 years where about one in eight men is an ex-offender,” said John Schmitt, a Senior Economist at CEPR and a co-author of the report with Kris Warner, also from CEPR. Schmitt blogs on more details of his report here.

Consider this: When you are thinking about gender and trends in employment consider that in America, doing time is a social institution we’ve organized for doing gender. It is another one of our “man laws.”

-Virginia Rutter