Nice Work

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

This is a brief dispatch from teaching sex. I’m teaching a sociology class at Framingham State University this semester called Sex/Sexualities in Society. Students in my class also are enrolled in my colleague Bridgette Sheridan’s history class History of Gender, Sexualities and the Body. Together these courses are part of an innovative linked learning community called “The Making of Sexualities.” Who says you can’t do sex every day?

Monday night we had a video Skype class with my colleague, Marie Bergström, who studies online (heterosexual) dating in France. Marie is from Sweden, and is completing her doctoral research in Paris. My awesome students were riveted by the topic, and by connecting across continents about sexual politics. If I could summarize, we learned that there are sexual double standards in France and in Sweden, but they aren’t the same. Ditto for the US. Last week read an article, “Casual Hookups to Formal Dates: Refining the Boundaries of the Sexual Double Standard,” about hooking up on college campuses and found the same thing: Even as we are long beyond the sexual revolution, and even though men and women experience new kinds of freedoms to have sexual desire, they end up following distinct rituals in order to manage sex-specific sexual stigma and opportunities. The learning community is fundamentally a critique of essentialism and heteronormativity. But as we read and dialogue, we have a basic puzzle: why the persistence of the sexual double standard? We just read Mary Wollstonecraft in my classical theory class; she raised the issue over 200 years ago, but it still isn’t old news.

Next week, Pepper Schwartz is coming to FSU—she’ll talk to professors, meet with students, and she’ll address the entire campus about sex across the life cycle, with the fun title “From Viagra to Hooking Up: The Sexual Life Cycle.” It will be a big day for Framingham State University. And it will be great to hear what Pepper has to say about the sexual double standard across the life cycle—and over the past four decades since the sexual revolution suggested the end of all that.

-Virginia Rutter


Some nice work of my own: The second edition of The Gender of Sexuality: Exploring Sexual Possibilities is out!  Pepper Schwartz and I wrote it in the 1990s, and revising it focused our attention on how sex has changed in a decade+. Here are three examples:

In 2012, same-sex marriage rights have changed dramatically. In 1998, we thought that same-sex marriage was here to stay in the U.S…. but noted that much of the population wasn’t going to like it. At the time, Hawaii had had their flirtation with same-sex marriage rights, Vermont was working on theirs, and Pepper was busy testifying in a number of these cases. Today, a majority of the population believe same-sex marriage rights should be equivalent to cross-sex marriage rights, with each generation becoming increasingly accepting of marriage equality. Six states and the District of Columbia have marriage rights, yet 33 states have laws or constitutional amendments that are “Defense of Marriage Acts” asserting marriage must be between a male and female. The debates have continued to be ugly (such as the experience with Proposition 8 in California and the unspeakable and silly positions of our political candidates) but the change is definitive, and if we have a third edition down the road, I predict marriage equality will be law of the land.

In 2012, gender differences in sexual freedom have become a lot more subtle. In 1998 we said “the more things change the more they remain the same” with respect to gender. What we meant was that women had benefited a lot from the sexual revolution–and had an increased amount of sexual and social freedom relative to some remote past. So, by the 1990s, a young single woman’s (like a man’s) having ever had sex did not, in general, affect her reputation, but her having had, say, more than five partners was judged more harshly than a man’s being known to have done the same. Studies continue to show gender difference in sexual experience, but the numbers change and there is more diversity by subgroups. Think of the issue of pleasure. When we looked at research on hooking up from the past decade, studies showed how in college “hook ups” men were more likely to have an orgasm, or receive oral sex, if it is a first hook up. But as more hook ups occurred, women in such encounters experienced pleasure more often. Could be an issue of skills. Could be an issue of reticence. Things have changed. But the persistence of a gap has remained. I often write about how gender inequality is sneaky; part of the sneakiness is that sometimes when one gender gap narrows, a new one opens up….

In 2012, transgender statuses are much more in the public consciousness. In 1998, we gave the most sparing attention to transgender people and transgender experiences. A decade later, we were stunned to see this lapse in our own book. The transgender experience in the US and across the globe continues to be challenging. But transgender experience is no longer an “exotic outlier” that few people have heard about or recognize the value of understanding. The debate over rules in Canada’s “Passenger Protect” program (think U.S. “no fly” practices) that stipulate that people must appear to be the gender (by which they really mean “biological sex”) indicated on their identification makes the point. On the one hand this appears to be an insane regulation even for those who don’t strictly identify as transgender. It is particularly hostile to those who are transitioning, or who don’t intend to medically transition, but live as one gender while being another biological sex. On the other hand, the dialogue, which you can see in the Washington Post or Huffington Post or many blogs dedicated to trans themes, foregrounds a wider public consciousness (if not perfect understanding) of the issues than we saw in the 1990s.

And that is just the first couple of pages of the book! I hope you’ll check it out.

Virginia Rutter

GWP welcomes Sarah Damaske, an assistant professor of Labor Studies and Employment Relations and Sociology at the Pennsylvania State University and author of For the Family? How Class and Gender Shape Women’s Work (Oxford University Press, October 3, 2011). Her remarkable new study of moms and work, described in detail in her new book and below, goes far in separating myth from fact.

A judge presides over the case of Kate Reddy, a working-mother. Her crimes: not knowing her daughter’s preference for broccoli and indulging her children with expensive Christmas presents. This poignant nightmare from Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It, now a major motion picture starring Sarah Jessica Parker, deftly portrays Kate’s fears that she will be considered a bad mother.

A hedge-fund manager, devoted wife of an architect and mother of two, Kate works at a high-stress and high demanding job. Before her youngest turns two, she has left the firm and moved to the country where her husband will be the sole breadwinner. Kate’s story is a commonly told one about middle-class women’s choice to “opt-out” of the workplace due to the pressures of combining work and family.

But this story does not accurately portray the average working-mother who leaves work.

In my research with eighty women living in New York City in 2006-2007, I discovered that it is working-class mothers who are more likely to interrupt their careers and often face prolonged periods out of work, as they move into and out of the labor market in search of a good position. Working-class moms have a harder time cobbling together childcare so working outside the home has to be worth the effort—meaning jobs that provide benefits, the promise of promotion, a fair wage, and the respect of employers (characteristics often lacking in the service sector jobs these women most often found themselves in).

Turns out that most middle-class mothers are “doing it”—weaving work and motherhood. In fact, the movie version of the book has changed the story to show Kate staying at work in the end. Women with higher education and higher-status jobs benefit from more than just their larger incomes, they typically have more “social capital,” including an insider’s understanding of the ways that the workplace functions and connections to people who can help them find jobs. These resources make it easier for middle-class women to stay in the labor market when faced with a bad job because they are connected to networks that can help secure better employment. Rather than opting-out of the workforce, per the fictional Kate, many of the middle-class moms that I met switched jobs (sometimes multiple times) in an attempt to balance home and work.

All of the mothers who participated in my study, whether or not they worked, shared Kate’s fear that someone would sit as judge and jury to their crimes of imperfect motherhood. This pressure to be good mothers did not lead women to leave work—in fact the majority of women in my study, like the majority of mothers nationwide, work. But it has led to a common response when women are asked to justify their decisions about work.

Whether the decision is to stay home or go to work, the majority of women justify their work decisions as being made for their families. Women who work explain that labor market participation fulfills their families’ needs. Cynthia, a working-mom married to a husband earning six figures, explained that she stayed at work, “so I could make all the extras and everything for [my kids].”  Those who leave work explain that they, too, make their decision for their family. Virginia, a stay-at-home mom whose husband is unemployed, said she left work to “be home for the kids,” although she only left work when a new boss reduced her job flexibility and publicly belittled her. These responses allow women to emphasize behavior they believe is acceptable, such as decisions made to care for family and to minimize behavior that might be seen in a negative light, such as taking advantage of a job opportunity or finding disappointment at work.

Cultural expectations about selfless motherhood lead women to say they make work decisions for their family and continue to drive the public discourse about women’s work. Ultimately, the talk of middle-class women’s choice or working-class mothers’ financial need to work constrains our public consciousness, pigeonholing women’s work as selfishly chosen or unrewardingly forced. Instead, my research suggests that women examine the possibilities that lie before them and make decisions that they believe best for themselves and their families.

The woman who “chooses” to leave work because her financial resources allow it is a red herring. She draws attention away from the real issues that all women, even fictional Kate, face in the workplace: a lack of workplace flexibility, few childcare options, few sick days, and little parental leave. All women would benefit from policies that addressed these concerns, but we also need to focus our attention on creating better work environments for working class women so that these women, too, can find the respect and fair wages that will lead them to stay at work. Creating better work environments will mean more women will stay at work and that stability will be better for mothers, families and the economy in the long run.

Sarah Damaske

Call Center/Wikimedia Commons

Last Thursday in downtown D.C. I joined a large crowd of union members from Communications Workers of America–members of many other unions were there, too, in solidarity. And, after 45,000 workers had been in strike for two weeks, on Saturday, as reported by Steve Greenhouse in the NYTimes, things changed a little bit:

Leaders of the unions that have been on strike against Verizon Communications announced on Saturday that they were ending the walkout even though the two sides had not reached an overall settlement for a new contract.

For now, no more picket lines. Workers start back tonight (evening shift) under their old contract. Reports say the negotiations will continue to be contentious. At the picket line I listened to speakers who focused attention on the experience of call center workers and some of their concerns.

Unless you are a customer service or call center worker yourself, there are a few things you might not know about the job, but they will help you put the Verizon strike into focus. And might help you recognize how punitive, short-sighted, and, well, disgusting, the stance of Verizon towards its own workers is.

Call center work is very stressful. I’m not talking about the stress workers experience from occasionally cranky, impatient, or rude callers. As my sister-in-law Shannon says, they call it “work” for a reason. But call center work has become like an “electronic assembly line” complete with extensive digital surveillance, monitoring, and measurement–especially measurement of those things that are easy to measure. Workers are scheduled literally every second of their work day, with very tight bench marks for how long they are staying on a call, their sales quotas, et c.

The dilemma is well described on a “working at Verizon” Jobitorial website. A worker in Tennessee writes,

My main complaint with the company is that there is no fine line between customer service and performance measures. You can’t help a customer when you have too keep calls a certain length every time so that you can meet your calls per hour, and working in financial services, you have to collect money on the account too.

What’s harder to measure are things like stress response–but these conditions produce stress responses like illness and excessive turnover–which influences bottom line and, dare I say it?, quality of life.

Ten years ago the Verizon workers’ union, the Communications Workers of America, negotiated a stress reduction package to create a “win-win” solution around the high-cost of stressed out working conditions. To reduce stress, workers were guaranteed up to 30 minutes per day to follow up on paperwork and to call back customers over their open cases. Workers and the company both feel better when they are empowered to deliver good quality service for the company. If a worker was doing her job well, she was guaranteed a limit to how frequently her calls were monitored.

There are many more details to the stress reduction package, but you get the picture. The stress reduction package was negotiated based on the premise that workers who are less stressed are more productive. Productivity numbers aren’t available, but the rate of turnover in non-union call centers is 100 percent; the rate at stress-reduced call centers is much, much lower, per CWA research economist Debbie Goldman. And company profitability has been outstanding (see below).

These are a few examples of the one hundred items that Verizon has sought to strike from the Verizon workers’ contracts. There’s no rationale, no discussion provided.

I focus on the scenario for the call-center workers today because these workers are disproportionately women–68 percent according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. These workers have limits on mandatory overtime (that is, when an employer unilaterally requires extra work hours)–absolute limits, but also the right to say no when they have a family reason–things like childcare or elder care responsibilities. Verizon wants to rescind these limits. The CWA had previously negotiated the ability of people to take personal time off for a few hours, such as when a child is sick; this too is on the chopping block. Don’t even ask about health insurance or leave policy.

On August 19 the CWA released a statement: “A recent analysis by Morgan Stanley shows that Verizon’s net income from ongoing operations was $13.9 billion in 2010. That’s up more than 16 percent from 2007.” They asked “Then why is this very profitable company demanding cuts in compensation of $20,000 per worker per year?”

So, yet another case of corporate greed. That’s disgusting. But going down the list of demands from Verizon, the cuts to quality of life, stress reduction, and just simple, professional respect for workers, that is not just disgusting, it is shameful.

To support these workers, go to Verizon Strike Donation site.

-Virginia Rutter

Earlier this month, I went with my Framingham State University colleagues Bridgette Sheridan and Lisa Eck to the International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Society, and Culture (IASSCS) conference in Madrid. We each gave papers related to “Raising Awareness about Heteronormativity.” We applied research and theory to teaching and campus activities that challenge essentialism and de-center gender and sexuality. It was cool. I’d love to tell you all about it.

Thing is, if you aren’t at an international conference on sexuality, you might say, “what is heteronormativity?”

Well, here’s a big hint from a text I encountered yesterday (via Tyler Cowen):

The existence of a nuclear family is to a large extent dictated by nature. According to Aristotle (Politics, Book1 part 2) “there must be a union of those who cannot exist without each other; namely, of male and female, that the race may continue (and this is a union which is formed, not of deliberate purpose, but because, in common with other animals and with plants, mankind have a natural desire to leave behind them an image of themselves)”. However, families are also economic units that share consumption, coordinate work activities, accumulate wealth and invest in children. Indeed, Aristotle adds that “The family is the association established by nature for the supply of men’s everyday wants”.

Heteronormativity refers to the norms that underpin the notion that men and women are complementary and “cannot exist without each other”; that their union is natural—“not of deliberate purpose”–and, by inflection, ideal. It involves the claim that men’s and women’s “natural desire” towards one another is about leaving “behind them an image of themselves.” Think of a wedding ceremony of fifty-year-olds that incants that the function of marriage is to procreate. That is heteronormative.

The problem isn’t with hetero, hetero is grand; the problem is with naturalizing and idealizing hetero above any other. You have the elision of a social and political form, like marriage, with a natural form, like male and female, vagina and penis, and an ideal form, like a sacrament of marriage, that empowers those who believe biology is destiny.

There are consequences. When a perspective naturalizes social relations–like marriage–it renders power relations invisible by using phrases like “it’s natural” or “obviously.” In this quotation about family economics, the authors evoke a natural order of things between men and women that establishes de facto wiggle room for accounting for inequalities that persist within (and beyond) families. The authors aren’t ruling out same-sex marriage, they are just working from a model of heterosexual marriage that sets the “norm.”

You might have speculated that the passage above came from a 1950s essay by sociologist Talcott Parsons… or a 1970s discussion from Gary Becker… but it is the opening passage of a book, set to be published by Cambridge University Press, titled Family Economics. The elite scholars who wrote it open with a reference to the natural (male and female seek each other) before they propose to examine the economics of their natural arrangements.

The title of the IASSCS conference was Naming and Framing: The Making of Sexual (In)Equality. Concern with framing and theory sometimes seems removed from battles for social and sexual justice. But labeling heteronormativity helps us to name and re-frame paradigms of the powerful. It means we can call out “high theory”—like that from these economists–when it uses poetical rhetorical flourishes to engage and endorse essentialism. That’s why we’re raising awareness about heteronormativity.

-Virginia Rutter

Pepper Schwartz and I are just wrapping up the 2nd edition of our book The Gender of Sexuality. My favorite part? Analyzing the changing status of men in sex scandals. And lo and behold, here’s a  sample of what we have been thinking about posted at

(CNN) — Whoa! I know more about Rep. Anthony Weiner’s private business than (I pretend) I’d like to know. Not just the bulging gray underpants, but also the understanding that all the texting, tweeting, and online lurid repartee is really about… what, masturbation? TMI, right?

One of the biggest developments in American sex scandals in our recent past is the rise in just this sort of “too much information.”

Read the rest at CNN: you’ll see how TMI has become a tool for making men look foolish without doing anything to modify the sneaky gender inequality that persists  in our social and sexual arrangements.

-Virginia Rutter


Here’s some useful evidence that unions matter for women’s upward mobility. But quality of life is about security and justice as well as economics, and Dean Baker, co-founder of the Center on Economic and Policy Research, explains how so in a recent Guardian post, “Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the union maid.”

Fact is, DSK attacked a member of a labor union. She has protections that U.S. workers without a union do not. Without the protection of a union, would she have had the confidence to come forward? Here’s how Baker poses the question:

Housekeepers are generally among the lowest-paid workers at hotels, often earning little more than the minimum wage. It is a high turnover job, meaning that any individual housekeeper is likely to be viewed as easily replaceable by the management. If this housekeeper did not enjoy the protection of a union contract, is it likely that she would have counted on her supervisors taking her side against an important guest at the hotel? Would she have been prepared to risk her job to pursue the case?

This is no outlier. Today, the New York Times reports about a similar attack at another “high end” New York hotel:

The supervisor of a housekeeper at the Pierre hotel was suspended on Tuesday after she failed to report to the police the housekeeper’s complaint that she was sexually assaulted by a prominent Egyptian businessman, causing a 15-hour delay in the investigation.

As Baker mentions via a link to this New York Times article without union protections, hotel housekeepers recognize that they  “simply have to accept sexual harassment and even sexual assault as “part of the job”.

Baker has another agenda in his article worth noting.

The IMF has also urged western European countries to eliminate or weaken laws that prevent employers from firing workers at will. These laws, along with unions, are seen as “labour market rigidities” that prevent labour markets from operating efficiently.

So, workers can get fired at will. It is only “efficient.” Where’s the bias? Dean Baker is reminding us that hotel housekeepers can tell us.  You think efficiency arguments and “textbook” economics don’t serve the interests of power? Do the math.

Virginia Rutter