This month’s column features our first guest-post from Liz Borkowski, MPH. Liz is the managing editor of Women’s Health Issues and a researcher at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. She focuses on reproductive health, paid leave, and US health policy, and is a regular contributor to the public health blog The Pump Handle.
What’s the best way to help lesbian and bisexual (LB) women lose weight, when their communities may question the very goal of weight loss? That’s a question behind the “Healthy Weight in Lesbian and Bisexual Women: Striving for a Healthy Community” (HWLB) initiative. The answer they came up with was to focus the program on physical activity and nutrition, rather than numbers on a scale. Their findings suggest that this can be an effective approach for helping lesbian and bisexual women adopt healthier habits. Nearly all (95%) of participants achieved one or more of the health objectives, which included nutrition and physical activity goals as well as weight reduction. That included 57% of participants increasing their weekly physical activity minutes by 20% – habits that, if sustained, could contribute to years of improved health.
The Women’s Health Issues supplement about the study contains lessons for healthcare providers who serve lesbian and bisexual women. As Natalie Ingraham and her colleagues explain in an article about provider interventions, lesbian and bisexual women may not disclose their sexuality to providers who seem to presume heterosexuality; lack of disclosure can lead to inadequate care. Weight bias can also be common among healthcare providers:
“…stigma and discrimination related to sexual orientation and gender identity may be compounded by stigma related to weight and body size.”
To address this, the researchers developed and evaluated two curricula for providers to enhance their ability to provide high-quality care to LB “women of size” (overweight or obese). Focus group participants explained that they wanted providers’ help in overcoming barriers to healthy habits, not providers making them feel shamed or blamed for their weight. Based on this feedback and prior studies, the team developed two curricula that involved cultural competency training and motivational interviewing (MI) techniques:
“Rather than trying to convince clients to change, providers trained in MI elicit arguments for change from the clients themselves…These techniques help clients to explore and resolve ambivalence, develop self-efficacy, and set personal goals.”
The team pilot tested the “academic format” training with physicians, residents, and medical students at universities in Washington, DC and Nashville, Tennessee. They pilot tested the “clinic format” training with staff and providers at Lyon-Martin Health Services, a Program of HealthRight360, which provides care to LGBT clients in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ninety-six participants completed tests before and after the trainings; results showed the most change on questions about patient-provider interactions and LB women’s avoidance of care.
Specifically, after the trainings, more participants (correctly) agreed with the statements “Lesbians and bisexual women may avoid health care because they don’t trust the practitioner to be culturally competent” and “Overweight and obese women often delay or avoid health care if they feel their health care provider holds a bias against women who are large.” More participants also (correctly) disagreed with the statement “Physicians/nurses should always instruct their overweight/obese patients to lose weight.” There was also more (correct) agreement with this statement, which encapsulates what providers can do to help overweight clients:
“Patients who are advised by their physician how to modify their behavior to lose weight are more likely to lose weight than those who do not get this advice.”
While the authors of this article note the need for additional research on these curricula – including studies to see whether they improve clinical practice – their findings, combined with the findings of the overall HWLB study, have some clear implications. Instead of instructing all overweight or obese lesbian and bisexual patients to lose weight, providers should offer advice on adopting healthier behaviors. It is key that this advice be presented in ways that don’t contribute to stigma on the basis of larger size or sexual orientation. To better serve lesbian and bisexual patients, health care providers should familiarize themselves with cultural norms and problematic stigmas that LB women may face. Then, during patient interactions they should make sure to sensitively include “open and positive acknowledgement of sexual orientation.”
Less than twelve hours after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Omar Mateen’s father said to reporters that his son’s actions “had nothing to do with religion.” Yet religion was front and center to many people’s reactions to the tragedy. Why?
The most obvious answer is that Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic state of Syria and the Levant (commonly referred to as ISIS) in a 911 call he placed during the shooting (it is worth noting that he also claimed allegiance to other groups in conflict with ISIS).
We know that ISIS kills people for being gay. Yet social media users were quick to point out following the Pulse shooting the ways in which the LGBTQ community—particularly Latino/as and African Americans—also face physical and symbolic violence at the hands of other Americans.
The same day as the shooting, Texas politician Dan Patrick posted this tweet (later apologizing and claiming that the tweet had been scheduled days earlier).
But Patrick’s attitude is similar to religious conservatives who advocate against gay and transgender rights. Omar Mateen’s homophobia, while it aligns with terrorist groups like ISIS, could well be the result of watching the 700 Club. Andrew Sotomayor writes pointedly, “Every preacher, pastor, or priest who’s falsely claimed that LGBT people are ‘sinners,’ ‘perverts,’ or told someone to ‘pray the gay away’ contributed to this murder.”
Some Muslims have pointed out widespread homophobia within their religious communities (examples here, here, and here). But just as swiftly as conservative politicians blamed radical Islam for the incident, progressives responded by speaking out against Islamophobia and generalizations about Muslims as extremists or uniformly anti-gay.
For many, religion is an indirect villain in this tragic story—fueling the hate of a violent man; straining the relationships between victims and their friends and families; and contributing to a climate in which LGBTQ people may not feel safe in their homes and jobs. Yet in the days following the shooting, many religious communities have become places of solidarity and support. According to the Pew Research Center, roughly half of the LGBT population in America is affiliated with a religion. And a sizable minority (17 percent) report that religion is “very important” in their lives. LGBTQ Christians, Muslims, Jews and their allies have organized countless vigils, written commentary, walked in Pride marches, addressed the Pope, mourned in gay bars. For LGBTQ people, religion may often be the villain, but it is important to recognize that it is sometimes also the healer.
ACLU Lawyer Gillian Thomas’s book, Because of Sex, demonstrates that once a law is passed, the work has just begun. Thomas traces fifty years of court cases that interpreted the meaning of sex discrimination as established by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Thomas grips her reader from the start, opening the book with the controversial introduction of “sex” into the Civil Rights Act by Howard Smith (Democratic Representative from Virginia). To this day, scholars debate whether this addition was a sincere attempt to promote gender equality or a sexist joke aimed at derailing the Act. Ultimately, the clause stayed in and the Civil Rights Act passed prohibiting discrimination because of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex. However, as Thomas and other scholars have pointed out, because “sex” was a last minute addition to the law, its meaning received little attention from Congress. Therefore, it has been up to the courts to interpret what sex discrimination looks like. This is where Thomas spends the majority of her book.
Thomas argues that Title VII has led to “revolutionary” legal and cultural change and consequently “transforming what it means to be a woman who works” (p. 229). Each chapter of Because of Sex tackles one court case that made its way to the Supreme Court and set precedent for the interpretation of sex discrimination in employment. This case study approach allows Thomas to introduce her readers to all the players involved in each of these cases, giving background and historical contextual information that brings each case to life. For example, I’m very familiar with Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, wherein sex stereotyping was ruled sex discrimination after Ann Hopkins was denied partnership for her management style and told to go to charm school. What I didn’t know was that after winning her case, Hopkins was offered $1 million to NOT return to work at Price Waterhouse. Hopkins turned them down and rejoined the firm after fighting them in the courts for nearly a decade. According to Thomas, Hopkins became a fierce advocate for diversity in the firm, which explains in part why now you can see Price Waterhouse on top lists of workplaces promoting diversity. What really hit home for me was how long these landmark cases take and how life moves on for the plaintiffs in the meantime. Their names may go down in legal precedent and/or history books for changing the direction of sex discrimination law, but in the meantime, they have to pay the bills. And as someone suing for employment discrimination, that isn’t always easy.
This is a book that fellow wonkettes may pick up for a quick and informative read. It may not be a book for academics looking to cite new research. Thomas does not situate her book within a larger literature, her argument lacks a theoretical or empirical contribution, and her methodology of choosing which cases to analyze is unclear. However, Thomas writes with a narrative style that makes reading legal cases accessible and enjoyable. Let’s face it – reading about the law can be quite dry and boring even to those of us who are sincerely invested in its nuances, idiosyncrasies, and possibilities. Thomas uses her legal expertise and experience to translate the law for everyday readers. I especially appreciated how she threw in important procedural details to those of us who do not practice law. For example, she shows how a case moves from a district court, to an appeals court, and, if their petition is accepted, to the Supreme Court. Once at the Supreme Court, Thomas explains that there is no trial. Instead, each side’s lawyer has thirty minutes to present their argument and it is expected for the justices to jump in immediately and ask questions. Therefore, lawyers typically practice their argument through moot courts or assemblies of their peers, anticipating the questions justices may ask.
Because of Sex would also be a great supplementary text in college courses. For instance, I can imagine assigning sections of it in a Gender and Work course to help my students understand the various forms of sex discrimination. In my experience, the only form of sex discrimination college students know about is wage inequality. The case studies in Thomas’s book provide clear illustrations that sex discrimination can also involve denying employment to mothers, height and weight restrictions, discriminatory pension plans and leave policies, sexual harassment, and sex stereotyping in promotion decisions. Thomas’s book could also pair well with legal mobilization literature, providing tangible examples of how people consider their legal rights, the various actors involved in advocacy, and how legal cases connection to larger social movements.
Because of Sex by Gillian Thomas is a good introductory text for folks looking to explore how courts have interpreted sex discrimination since its introduction to the Civil Rights Act.
The thought of publishing a book is very seductive. A book offers the opportunity to explain ideas in detail. For some, it signifies an academic arrival. Once you publish a book, you are officially part of the knowledge production machine, you have a compelling way to engage the conversation. My book, on abortion politics [Abortion Politics, Mass Media, and Social Movements in America], was meant to be that.
But this story is not about the intensity of the topic, but the intensity of the book. I love my book. I am proud of it. But the process stunned me. It took four years for my book to get published (from the initial submission to its publication) and I had almost no contact with my editor during the revision or publication process. I learned that the reality of publishing a book does not always live up to the Hollywood montage that plays out in our minds. This may sound obvious…but it surprised me.
When I am asked to give advice on writing a book, I answer: You need to be practical about your book. Here are a few things to consider when you get serious about moving a book from the montage in your mind to reality.
How your institution and department feel about books? When I arrived at Florida State University, I learned that my department was fine with my publishing a book. The provost at the time, however, was not. His part-true, part-disciplinarily parochial view was that books are just dissertations that publishers agreed to put in print, again. After I was done feeling disappointed, I realized I would have to be careful about when I published a book on the same topic as my dissertation. I didn’t want to spend years on a book that ultimately hurt (rather than helped) my career.
What are the publication expectations for promotion or just keeping your job? These vary dramatically by institution, but are important to your decision-making. If you are at an R-1, then your book might only count if it is published by a “top tier” press, which will be interpreted however the powers-that-be see fit. In this situation, you want to do the background work to figure out the prevailing definition of “top tier” and determine exactly what will make that book count. For example, some institutions want the book published and reviewed before they will count the book toward promotion. If you have more publishing leeway, think of the academic publishing universe as your proverbial oyster! There are a number of exciting academic presses that don’t have university in their title (think Routledge, Sage, Polity, and Ashgate) but are publishing great stuff. Use this opportunity to find a good fit for you.
How long can you wait to get reviews? How about for your book to come out? You can hardly believe the variability in review times for academic publishers. I waited over a year for two reviews! I made good use of the reviews, and revised the book in less than six months. Then I waited anotheryear for the contract. Others put in this kind of time and never got that contract. For me, I actually stepped up the pace by shopping my manuscript around to other publishers and obtaining competing contracts. Be aware, getting competing contracts can be tricky business, particularly since some of the big-wig publishers do not allow you to submit your manuscript elsewhere while it is under review. I also asked a friend to contact the editor on my behalf. It was tough: The top-tier press would help me with the promotion and raise I sought. But there were otherwise very attractive features to other publishers.
Do you really want to write a book? Think hard about whether writing a book will bring you pleasure. I (half) jokingly refer to academia as the “profession of pain,” and truly believe it is critical to find pleasure in our work where we can. I really enjoyed writing my book and, despite the lingering bad taste in my mouth about the process, I am really pleased with my final product. Writing, for me, is bliss. I love to get comments and rewrite (something, by the way, that you cannot always count on an editor to do). Others have observed that I get grouchy on the days I cannot write due to other professional obligations. This isn’t true for everyone. If writing the equivalent of ten papers in a row with minimal feedback doesn’t sound appealing, you should think seriously about creating a writing plan that doesn’t look or feel like torture, or put off writing that book for now.
We are awash in books. My home and office are crowded with bookshelves packed with the fiction and nonfiction books that I’ve read and want to read. In retrospect, it is not surprising that I had a romanticized understanding of the academic publishing industry. While I am sure that I still have much to learn, I am finishing up my second sole-authored book. The process is going much better. My editor is excited about the book and, even though the deadline is looming large, so am I.
C.J. and her public school teacher female partner have had some version of the following conversation with faculty wives (those married to men) countless times over the past decade:
Wives: “Wow, my husband just works so hard. It’s like I’m a single parent. But academia’s just like that –totally unpredictable. He has to work evenings and weekends to get published and travel all the time to conferences. I have to not work/adjust my schedule/work part time to make sure child care is covered/food is made/house is taken care of.”
C.J.’s public school teacher partner:“Huh. That doesn’t sound like C.J.’s schedule at all. She works 9-5 and we share childcare equally. She does some work after they go to bed and during naptime (and let’s be honest between the 4 am and 6 am wakeups in those early days), but we have a fairly regular schedule and division of labor. She grocery shops, I take the kids to dance classes while she does so. She puts the kids to bed, I clean the house. Mornings are evenly divided between the two of us (though we do make the kids stay in bed until 6:20 so we can both get in early morning workouts!). Sure there are evening events/conferences/invited talks, but we plan those out in advance to make sure each of our jobs are covered. In fact when C.J. travels the table is covered in Tupperware and prepared meals so she holds up her part of the labor before she leaves (see image). Weird, it’s like our partners work in two totally different industries.”
Over and over and over again. So it was with only a little surprise that I read this headline in the Washington Post: “The Surprising Reason Why Lesbians Get Paid More Than Straight Women.” It turns out Marieka Klawitter, professor of public policy, examined 29 studies “on wages and sexual orientation and found a 9 percent earnings premium for lesbians over heterosexual women.” She suggested that this premium was due to lesbians’ increased levels of education and work experience.
Another another recent study, the article goes on to point out, showed that lesbians who had previously lived with a male partner made 20% less than those who never had lived with a man (though even these lesbians still made more than heterosexual women who lived with a male partner). Indeed, this “male partner penalty” reflects what Philip Cohen points out in this graph about women’s median earnings as a proportion of men’s by education (below). You can see the increase in salary proportionally for those who have not only never had kids, but are also not married.
So what is going on here? We, in consultation with Facebook friends, have a few ideas:
See the conversation above – that perhaps the premium is reflecting the fact that women in same-sex couples don’t perform a full second shift and perhaps engage in a more equitable division of labor. Time is not valued or undervalued by gender, in other words.
Women’s work success may threaten their heterosexual relationship and they may reduce their professional efforts. This reduction is reflected in salary. Certainly research by Christin Munsch on women’s earnings and cheating patterns suggests that women’s earning power may not positively affect heterosexual relationships. (Idea credit: Kate Howlett McCarley)
The wage premium has nothing to do with lesbians and everything to do with whether or not a woman lives with a man. We might see something similar for single straight identified women. (Idea credit: Siri Colom)
The living with a man penalty might reflect regional patterns of homophobia and be less about the man himself. (Idea Credit: Megan Carroll)
This might have something to do with queer gendered embodiments in the workplace. As Jane Ward asked “did they control for butchness?” Or Terri Eagen-Torkko suggested (tongue perhaps in cheek): “It’s probably just the half of us who are ‘the man.’” Indeed, could it be that there is something about the way one “does gender” that is different when one is lesbian identified? So lesbian identified that one has never lived with a man? More assertive perhaps? As such less prone to the mistakes women are told they make in negotiating salaries?
Finally, these findings need to be squared with the recent study that showed that women who might be read as queer because of their work experience are less likely to be called by prospective employers in the first place. (Idea credit: Dawne Moon and Sascha Demerjian)
It’s likely a combination of all of these factors and more. But given the difference male partners make in the equation, we can’t shake the notion that domestic division of labor plays a big role here. And while those of us in same-sex couples may be freer to create new scripts for these duties, as Tristan can attest, it’s challenging, but can be done, in heterosexual relationships, too.
In heterosexual relationships, the script is institutionalized such that deviating from it is challenging for many reasons beyond people feeling like “less of a man” or as though they are failing to live up to motherhood ideals. While actually measuring an equitable division of labor is challenging in any relationship, there are social forces working against heterosexual couples attempting for forge egalitarian divisions of labor—perhaps particularly when they have children. Part of this might have to do with actual, authentic collaboration and support. The joys and burdens of relationships need to be balanced, and it’s probably not all that shocking to hear that lesbian couples might be better at this. Heterosexual relationship scripts are institutionalized in ways that make men and women unhappy (though, for very different reasons). Challenging these means forging new scripts—a march that is invariably uphill.
Indeed, we have learned to rely on one another as coauthors in this way as well—passing papers back and forth and trying to assess work/family balance issues, and more. It enriches our work lives. The labor for this blog post itself, in fact, was aided by a queer digital network of people interested in similar issues and ideas and eager to help. In the end, these studies seem to raise as many questions as they answer about sexuality, gender, and the wage gap. And we ought to consider the questions posed as well as those that appear to be answered.
I’m beyond delighted to bring you this post from my friends over at Women Employed, a Chicago-based advocacy organization that mobilizes people and organizations to expand educational and employment opportunities for America’s working women. Below, Adriana Díaz, the Communications Manager at Latino Policy Forum and a leader of the Advocacy Council at Women Employed, muses poignantly and shares knowledge on how we work. Follow her on Twitter @adriana9diaz. -Deborah
A few weeks ago, I lost several hours of sleep to an irregular bout of insomnia. I went to work grouchy, brain hazy, and started to complain to my coworker—when I realized that she, as a mother of two children under the age of 3, ran on an average of five hours of sleep a night. A sleepless night seemed trivial in the moment, but in our water cooler conversation we gained perspective in our lifestyle differences, and in our shared privileges as women employed by our office—we both work for a company that values family support and work-life balance and offers flexible scheduling for salaried employees to meet those needs. For example, my coworker works 8 to 4 to accommodate her family’s childcare needs. I work 10 to 6. Bonus: we both get to work from home once a week.
While it may seem like a small perk to some, my coworker and I recognize that having flexibility in our workplace is a huge benefit to our quality of life. To be sure our conversation was an “a-ha!” moment for me on workplace issues; one of many I’ve had since becoming an Advocacy Council member at Women Employed (WE) more than a year ago. For too many working women—the benefits my coworker and I view as a given, control over our schedules, paid sick days, maternity leave—are out of reach.
So how do we create conditions in which all of us can thrive?
Beyond Balance, a panel discussion hosted by WE, dived into this very question last week. The engaging conversation was moderated by WE Executive Director Anne Ladky and included panelists Susan Lambert, University of Chicago, Associate Professor in the School of Social Service Administration; Iliana Mora, COO at Erie Family Health Center and WE Board member; and Rex Huppke, Chicago Tribune journalist of the popular workplace column, “I Just Work Here.”
The full program is available to watch on CAN-TV, but here are a few more a-ha moments I had that I hope you can learn from too:
There is no work-life balance for low-wage workers.
As 80 percent of minimum wage workers are adults, and 59 percent are women, Illiana Mora reminded us that for many balance is out of the question, “It’s work, work, work, work, work, work and more work. What they’re talking about is really, survival.”
Paying workers well, providing fair schedules and paid time off is not just great for employees, it’s great for business! Employee morale, health and loyalty suffer in industries with low wages and unpredictable schedules. This leads to high turnover among other incurred costs. Susan Lambert said, “We want strong businesses, we want firms to employ people and a strong economy. But the literature shows if you treat people well it pays off too.”
Millennials deserve their due credit for revolutionizing the workplace. The demographic is now the largest portion of the workforce and has a strong commitment to social justice.
Rex Huppke made the point that Millennial men want to be involved with their families: “Every generation will have its negative side…but Millennials have come along and said, ‘if you don’t provide me with the kind of things I find important, basically the work-life balance issues, then forget it, I’m going somewhere else.’ And then they just leave.”
Catch more highlights here. Interested in learning more about creating fairer workplaces? Visit Women Employed’s website.
Tristan Pascoe and C.J. Bridges* on February 3, 2016
A PhD student of economics at Harvard—Heather Sarsons—generated quite a buzz with her working paper, “Gender Differences in Recognition for Group Work” (HERE for the paper, and HERE for Justin Wolfers’ summary of her research in TheUpshot). Sarsons looked at the careers of young economists recruited by top universities in the U.S. over the past four decades. She discovered that while women publish at roughly the same rates as men, they are significantly less likely to achieve tenure, even after accounting for all the things one might first think to blame for this discrepancy (tenure rates at different universities, subfield differences, quality of publications, influence, etc.). There was one group of women, however, who received equivalent rates of success to men—women who publish without men, either alone or with other women. Simply put, Sarsons finds that when women publish with men, they do not receive the same credit.
Both of us are sociologists. And, in Sarsons’ paper, she also analyzed sociology and did not find the same difference in terms of how men and women receive credit for collaboration. Economists list authors alphabetically on publications. Sociologists select author order on the publication. Thus, we have publications listed as “Bridges and Pascoe” as well as “Pascoe and Bridges.” We see each of these collaborations as equal partnerships, but have worked out a system for selecting first author that has to do with who manages the various projects on which we collaborate.
We also have a good working relationship in terms of giving each other credit, and for collaboratively taking credit for work that belongs more to “us” than to either of us individually. As we’ve theorized hybrid masculinities, for instance, we have tried to be careful to ensure that the framework is attributed to both of us. The initial publication came out of research Tristan published in Gender & Society—an article that benefited a great deal from C.J.’s reading and feedback. And we collectively realized that part of what Tristan had found was something lots of different scholars were finding. So, we collaborated on a paper for Sociology Compass that creates a more general framework for studying transformations in masculinity. Tristan was first author on that paper (though it was an equal collaboration) in part because C.J. was first author on our recent anthology, Exploring Masculinities (also an equal collaboration). We are currently at work on a separate theoretical article building on the framework we established a year ago and C.J. will be lead author on this. Author order has always been an easy conversation for us. But we do talk and worry about whether there is or will be an discrepancy in the credit we each receive for the work.
Sometimes we perceive that Tristan receives more credit for our collaborations which may be due to the fact that he is a man. Sometimes we perceive that C.J. receives more credit for our collaborations because of her seniority and previous publishing record. We each attempt to negotiate these potential credit discrepancies differently, hoping to make up for something that might occur in our own collaboration relationship (despite Sarsons not finding it in sociology more generally). And, if we had a finer measure and found the gender credit gap in sociology, we admit that it would be something over which we have little control as individuals. But, as feminist sociologists who believe in the collaborative process, we decided to develop a list of feminist practices for cross gender collaborations.
10 Practices Men Who Collaborate with Women Should Consider
ALWAYS acknowledge your coauthor whenever you discuss or write about the collaboration.
Promote your coauthor’s solo-authored work and accomplishments.
Consider very carefully if and when you are listed as lead author in your collaborations.
As more reports and statements about the Zika virus circulate, the more readers/viewers are reminded of its greatest threat: “malformed babies” or infants with “defects.” Pregnant women are warned against traveling to regions where they could contract Zika as a means to protect their fetuses.
But responses to this disease also reveal a troubling underlying attitude about disabilities and the people who live with them. The message is clear: Disability is something to be prevented at all costs.
Zika is believed to be the cause of a growing number of babies born with “birth defects” like microcephaly (a disorder characterized by a disproportionately small head) and others that affect a child’s vision and hearing. Symptoms of an actual Zika infection are relatively minor, so much so that some mothers who delivered babies with related physical impairments (Zika babies) have trouble remembering even being sick.
Whereas news stories about Ebola since 2014 have often included images of supine suffering bodies surrounded by white hazmat suits, recent images about Zika feature babies born with small heads on the laps of parents (interestingly, often with their own heads cropped out of the frame). The story of this disease is one of disabled children.
Information about a disease gives rise to fears, which is something the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization have to negotiate when a new outbreak of a disease occurs. Remember the H1N1 pandemic in 2009? President Obama declared a national emergency to ensure people took the threat of the disease seriously, yet he played golf the same day to assuage fears that declaration was likely to inspire. People fear the pain, inconvenience, disruption, unknown effects, and expense of a disease as well as the potential loss of life.
As news about the Zika virus in South and Central America spreads, so does its companion anxiety—the anxiety about children being born with disabilities. This is surely a serious concern because these children may require additional care and resources, and in many cases, they are born into relatively poor families.
However, the fears associated with this disease are less about the care that will be needed for the children born with disabilities and more about their existence. Their birth is presented as the devastating outcome of the infection as a death count for Ebola or Cholera might be.
Images of children with microcephaly reinforce this point. We can see the impact of this disease and stare at the “malformed” body with the impunity of a computer screen. On January 27, NPR’s Renee Montagne, who interviewed Monica Roa, reported, “It would be fair to say we’re going to be seeing more of these babies being born with the birth defects of the Zika virus.” And seeing these babies is the real threat of Zika.
People with visible disabilities frequently experience staring and gawking as if they were on display. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Disabilities Discrimination Act are meant to protect against the kind of prejudice that can prevent disabled people from securing work, health care, housing, and the assurance of a quality life. The real disabling aspect of life with a disability is the way able-bodied people perceive, react to, and even ignore disability.
Disease—Ebola, H1N1, Cholera, etc.—expose social inequities like contaminated food or water, restricted access to health care, or a break down in public health. And while disability is not a disease, the Zika virus brings a light to cultural attitudes about disabilities as objectionable.
A life with disabilities has challenges and complexities that vary from one person to the next, but it is a life. We need to stop treating the birth of Zika babies as the outcome, the end point of the narrative of the Zika virus and focus on the lives the children and their families will live.
A simple way to begin focusing on the Zika babies as new lives and not tragedies is to change the language used to discuss them. A simple shift from “malformed” and “birth defect” to impairment or disability changes the story. Rather than a medicalized diseased body with its “defects,” we have a human being with a challenging life ahead.
Sarah Schuetze is a visiting assistant professor of English at St. Norbert College. She specializes in narratives of disease in American Literature, and she’s currently working on a book project called Calamity Howl: Fear of Illness in Early American Literature and Culture.
I’m thrilled to bring this interview with Joanne C. Bamberger, editor of the new anthology Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox (She Writes Press), to Girl w/Pen. Joanne and I were both part of the first class of the Women’s Media Center’s Progressive Women’s Voices program waaay back, and I’ve been following her writing with admiration ever since. An entrepreneurial journalist and award-winning writer, Joanne is the publisher and editor in chief of The Broad Side, a digital magazine of women’s commentary. Joanne was chosen for the Forty Over 40 “disruptor” list for her work in amplifying the voices of women for political and social change, and was awarded the 2013 Advocacy Innovator Award by Campaigns & Elections magazine. Working Mother Magazine has called her one of the most “powerful” moms in social media. Her new anthology explores the question of why so many Americans, especially women, have such complicated and conflicting feelings when it comes to one of the most well-known and admired women in the world — Hillary Rodham Clinton. She’ll be moderating a panel, with contributors Veronica Arreola and Emily Zanotti, TONIGHT at Women and Children First in Chicago at 7:30pm. If you’re local, I invite you to join me there!
DS: Your book’s title, Love Her, Love Her Not, evokes that game in which one person seeks to determine whether the object of their affection returns that affection or not. Hillary Clinton certainly wants the affection of culturally and politically astute women like those who’ve contributed to this anthology. By embracing the range of our complicated feelings, what kinds of feelings—and thoughts—do you hope the book itself will spark?
JCB: My hope is that the essays in LHLHN will help voters, especially women voters, examine their underlying feelings about Clinton. So many people say, “Oh, I don’t like her. I could never vote for her.” But when those same people are asked why they don’t like her, they’re stumped for an actual reason. So when I gathered the writers for this project, and we talked about essay topics, I asked each writer to really dig deep about the “why” question. What I found was that since we can only view any candidate through the lens of our personal experiences, those experiences significantly inform our feelings about her, rather than forming our opinions about her based on Hillary’s experience and credentials.
In many ways, how we view Hillary Clinton is really more about ourselves than about her. I believe that until women voters can work through their own feelings about Hillary, as well as women leaders in general, and what we expect of women, we won’t be able to elect a woman to the White House.
DS: You’ve brought together writers who are diverse in age, walks of life, race, and political affiliations. What were the most surprising through-lines in these essays, if indeed such through-lines exist?
JCB: One of the most surprising things to me was that so many writers still judge her for not leaving her husband after the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Even for the writers who initially judged her for being open about her personal political ambitions – and viewed her decision to stay in her marriage as a political calculation rather than a marital one – and have changed their minds about that judgment 20 years later, it was just very surprising to me that people judge her negatively for her decision when she was the wronged party in that episode.
Another theme I found fascinating was that while each essay topic was different, each writer was willing to take a step back and really view their feelings about Hillary through a microscopic lens and be really honest in the positives and negatives about Clinton. I’d characterize that kind of “through-line” as finally being able to see Hillary Clinton as a 3-D person, rather than the 2-D portrayal of her we are fed by most of the media, and to re-examine our ideas about her on a truer 3-D level. And isn’t that how we all want to be viewed? Unfortunately, we live in a time were media boil us all down to 2-D versions of ourselves. We won’t be able to elect a first woman president until we can look at ourselves, as well as Hillary, as fully-formed, three dimensional women who, by definition, are full of contradictions.
DS: In your earlier book, Mothers of Intention, you document how women and social media are revolutionizing politics and the uphill battle women still face in the world of politics and activism.How does a grandmother running for president change politics? And what do you make of the way media (social and otherwise) represent and portray her candidacy this time around?
JCB: Since we have had so many grandfathers run for president where that fact hasn’t been a substantive issue at all (most infamously, Mitt Romney with his 23 grandchildren and counting), having a woman who happens to be a grandmother running should not be an issue, either. Sadly, we still live in a society where women are still judged – decades after “women’s liberation” – through a traditional, gendered lens.
Unfortunately, few reporters or pundits are doing anything to change our views of women like Clinton. It certainly doesn’t help with how we view women of a certain age when women of younger generations use outdated language to discuss people like Hillary. Recently, a TIME Magazine reporter who’s written a book about women political leaders, said that grandmothers are viewed as “biddies,” suggesting that such an idea harms their chances of leading.
It seems we can’t escape media sexism when it comes to Hillary Clinton. In 2008, some questioned whether a hormonal Hillary should get anywhere near the “nuclear button,” channeling stereotypical worries about hysterical women. Now, a post-menopausal Hillary gets portrayed by Donald Trump (who is older than Hillary) as not having stamina, and reporters question whether she’s too old to run for president, yet they don’t make it as much of an issue for Bernie Sanders, who is several years older.
Statistically, since women live longer than men, and Clinton, at 68, has a life expectancy of at least 85, maybe we should take a more serious look at the fact that her older male candidates statistically have shorter life spans. 🙂
Until we can take the gendered filter off the lenses through which we view candidates, sadly will be an issue. Just as with the studies that show that woman candidates have to be likable for women voters to view them as “qualified,” yet when don’t require that of male candidates. I just hope I live long enough to see us toss those outdated gendered ideas out the window. Sadly, I’m not holding my breath.
DS: In so many ways, as you suggest, the debate seems as much about us as her. I love the title of a piece Jessica Grose wrote in Elle, “Have We Gotten Less Sexist Since Hillary Clinton’s Last Run.” Have we? And about that “we”: it’s easier to claim sexism when haters are men. Are there ways in which women, in our own love/hate, are enacting sexism too? If yes, how so?
JCB: Some of that sexism comes from the grandmother question we talked bout earlier.
Women, sadly, aren’t exempt from sexism when it comes to Hillary. The idea that some women have that a former first lady has no place running for national elective office, regardless of her own personal qualifications, is blatantly sexist. That many women loved her as secretary of state but loathe the idea of her as president is sexist. Women’s sexism toward Clinton is sometimes less obvious than the sexist commentary thrown her way by men, but it’s there – our continued questioning of her fashion choices, whether she’s strong enough to be commander in chief, and, yes, whether she is “likable” enough to women – all sexist, even if those same women can admit that her resume more than qualifies her to run for president.
DS: If you were to design a Hillary Studies course for college students (as you hint at in the introductory essay to the book!), what would the curriculum be?
JCB: It would be easy to put together a curriculum, with academic articles and books being written every year about her, and I think the focus would be on gender, media and whether we are, in fact, a post-feminist society.
While I know that many women younger than myself believe that we have finally reached a point where we are post-feminist – meaning we don’t need a woman to advocate for feminist issues, and that men who identify as feminists can do just as good a job as a woman, I disagree. And I think that a Hillary Studies curriculum would focus on: (1) the media sexism Hillary endured during the 2008 campaign and how all women are negatively impacted by that, (2) how Hillary’s leadership potential is undermined in our world of memes, and how those undermine all women, (3) right-wing, gendered hate speech (one example – “rhymes with blunt”) against Hillary and the negative impact that has on other women who follow her onto the national stage, and (4) what has to happen in society to get beyond these issues to finally be able to envision a woman sitting in the Oval Office in her own right so that we can actually elect one.
DS: Anything else you’d like readers to know?
JCB: One of my favorite things about the essays in the book is that they are all so nuanced, and written with insight and yes, humor. I had thought that the essays would fall neatly into three categories – the lovers, the haters, and those still on the fence. But because all the writers – even the ones who aren’t Hillary Clinton fans – could recognize the importance and the value of having someone like Hillary on the national stage, I couldn’t package them that way. If more of the coverage of her as a candidate was as thoughtful as the essays in LHLHN, we would be having a very different national conversation about her. I hope the readers of LHLHN will enjoy the various perspectives from these amazing women.
Buy the book from Women and Children First, right over here.
Circumcision is one of the most common surgical procedures in the United States. It is also among the most hotly debated. Scientists and doctors aren’t settled on the benefits or risk of the surgery and it is so politicized that it’s hard to parse fact from fiction, objective truth from medical mythmaking. Recently, vlogger Justin Dennis, at Everyday Feminism, gave us five reasons why (feminist) parents should consider not circumcising their boys. An important feminist foray into the topic, Dennis points to important issues like consent, bodily integrity, sexual health, and sexual pleasure (1). Those are great entry points for feminists who care about children’s rights and human rights.
But not every anti-circumcision position is a feminist one, and that’s where we need to be careful. In fact, male circumcision has been actively politicized by the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM), a dangerous and reactionary grouping of organizations who seek to undo many of the gains made by feminists (called ‘misandrists’ in the MRM). According to Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs), they fight for gender equality, against a feminist movement that has made men subservient to women. When you hear men (and sometimes women) speak about the danger of false rape accusations, or the myth of the wage gap, or a marriage boycott, chances are you are talking to a Men’s Rights Activist, or at least someone influenced by their ideology.
And the MRM has also latched onto male circumcision (2)(3). Like so many of their issues, they see male circumcision as evidence of men’s subordinated position in society. Society sacrifices men—through military conscription, through dangerous and forced labor, through circumcision. And this is why I’m writing; circumcision can be a feminist issue, but not the way MRAs talk about it. Here’s what they’re missing (and what we need to remember).
Male circumcision is symbolic of men’s power.
Circumcision has always been symbolically connected to male privilege. As a Jewish religious ritual, for example, circumcision separates the sexes. Boys are marked with full patriarchal power, and full group belonging; girls are a secondary class, not worthy of the mark. Men are full participants in the ritual; traditionally, women are not worthy of participation. As a medical practice, circumcision was part of a medical movement against masturbation. Masturbation was believed to sap boys’ and men’s energies, energies which were rightly saved for their participation in the public sphere—as workers, as leaders. Women, whose lives were relegated to the private sphere didn’t need such energies…and anyway, we didn’t think of them as particularly sexual to begin with.
Medicalizing circumcision also served male power. Circumcision’s inclusion as a normal part of childbirth was a tool, helping to solidify medicine’s dominance over pregnancy. What was once the realm of women, of midwives, childbirth rapidly came under the purview of men’s authority. The medicalization of birth and pregnancy was part of a concerted campaign by male doctors seeking to create a discipline of their own. Aided by the building of hospitals (claimed to be safe and sanitary, contrary to much evidence), and the development of medications which could ease women’s pain during birth, midwives were discredited. Circumcision, a surgery requiring training and precision, arose alongside these other developments. Ironically, doctors and mohels (traditional Jewish circumcisers) even conversed in medical journals over who was best trained and most precise. It didn’t really matter who won that fight—either way, men were guaranteed dominance over childbirth.
A final point about circumcision’s medical history; it has not only been about male privilege, but white male privilege. Circumcision was implemented medically at a time when industrialization and urbanization were encouraging immigration. Migrants from around Europe threatened white, American born men’s position in the workforce. Migrants from Europe were not likely to be circumcised, and thus the surgery served to distinguish the groups. The myth of circumcision’s hygienic benefits is likely borne of this part of its history. Migrants were poor and unclean; circumcised ‘native’ born whites were different from, better than, the unwashed masses.
Circumcision is painful. And it may very well be related to long-term psychological harm; for the men who fight against circumcision, the experience of harm is quite upsetting (4). But, what they are missing is that harm has historically and symbolically been in service of men’s power. It served men’s dominance in the public sphere and in the medical discipline; and it worked to distinguish white men’s superiority in a changing society and economy. Circumcision has been American society’s way of readying individual men for group power and privilege. Missing this point—that individual harm =/= group subordination—is a fundamental flaw of nearly all MRM arguments.
It is evident in their arguments against military conscription. Yes, individual men die as soldiers, but the reason they are sent to battle is because society views them as stronger and more courageous, as leaders. It is precisely because we value masculinity that we send men to war.
It is evident in their arguments in fathers’ custody battles. Yes, individual men suffer when they are denied custody of children during divorce. But it is because we have always given men positions of power and authority and relegated women to the subordinate position of homemaker and caretaker. It is precisely because we value masculinity that we do not see men as parents.
If we want to oppose male circumcision, we can recognize that it harms men. Dennis does this, recognizing the violation of consent and bodily integrity, and the potential physical and sexual harms of circumcision. But, if given the chance, I would have added another point to her list—circumcision is a feminist issue because circumcision is about patriarchy. To recognize this history (and its contemporary relevance) will necessarily shape how circumcision is feminist issue, and how we resist it. We must acknowledge its connection to men’s privilege, even as we acknowledge men’s pain. We can recognize individual harm without equating circumcision to the subordination of men. If not, we find ourselves with strange bedfellows. If we want to fight circumcision, we must fight patriarchy, not ignore it.
(1) She also mentions issues around hygiene and biology, though those are less directly relevant for feminist conversations on circumcision.
(2) See, for example, groups like the National Coalition for Men and A Voice for Men. I won’t link to their sites, because I’d rather they get fewer page views, but you’re welcome to google them to see their positions on the issues I discuss.
(3) Not all groups who politically oppose male circumcision are necessarily affiliated with the MRM. Groups in the Intactivist Movement (or, alternatively, the Genital Integrity Movement)–an umbrella term for groups fighting male circumcision–occupy a variety of positions on the political spectrum.
(4) The link between circumcision and harm is debated. For those men who are unhappily circumcised, the harm seems quite obvious. But because sexuality and our bodies are so loaded with social meaning, it is hard to know whether the harm is physiological, or psychological; that is, it is difficult to separate their belief in the harm from actual harm. The social construction of penises and masculine sexuality helps explain why many circumcised men in the U.S. never experience any problems with the circumcised penises, while other men seem to suffer greatly.
Amanda Kennedy is a PhD candidate in sociology at Stony Brook University (SUNY). Her main areas of interest are race, gender, sexuality, and the body, issues she approaches from a critical race/postcolonial feminist perspective. She teaches courses on race/gender/sexuality, the media, and technology.
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Girl w/ Pen, founded by Deborah Siegel, publicly and passionately dispels modern myths concerning gender, encouraging other feminist scholars, writers, and thinkers to do the same.
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