The Fourth Estate has found that the vast majority of people quoted in news coverage of the 2012 election are men.  The media research group collected a sample of election-related news stories from print newspapers and TV broadcasts, finding that 13% of print sources were women (79% were men and 8% were organizations) and 16% of TV sources were women (81% were men and 3% were organizations).

Male dominance was true in all outlets, though Meet the Press and Time Warner stand out as the least disproportionate:

This might be old (though still frustrating) news, except for the fact that the pattern held for issues traditionally considered “women’s”: abortion, birth control, Planned Parenthood, and women’s rights (blue is men, pink is women, grey is organizations):

This asymmetry is found across media.  See also our posts on gender and book reviewinggender and top billing at Paramount pictures, gender and top creatives for family movies, and women as news subjects.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Abortion is highly politicized in the U.S. (more so than in many other countries) and the fight between those who are in favor of and against available abortion occurs on two fronts.  One is familiar to just about everyone: the effort to overturn Roe v. Wade, the legislation Supreme Court decision that established the legality of abortion in 1973.

The second front, though, is less familiar.  It involves reducing the ease of access to legal abortion. Efforts to increase barriers to accessing legal abortion include passing laws that require minors to notify their parents of an abortion or get their consent, requiring mandatory counseling for abortion-seekers, instituting waiting periods, and discouraging medical schools from teaching abortion procedures.  Some of the issues of diminishing access are non-movement related; others are the direct result of pro-life activism.

I bring this up in order to focus on an additional barrier to access: a reduction in the number of clinics and hospitals that provide abortions.  The map below, based on data from the Guttmacher Institute and compiled by ANSIRH, shows how availability varies by state.  In the darkest states, up to 20% of women live in a county with no abortion provider; in the lightest states, between 81 and 100% percent do.

Living far from the nearest abortion provider is a problem especially for low-income women.  Such women are less likely to have an employer who will give her a day off to travel to the clinic, less likely to get a paid sick day, and less likely to be able to afford to lose even a single day’s wages.  She is also less likely to have a car, making it more difficult to get to a distant location, and less likely to have reliable day care for any existing children.  If the state requires in-person counseling and has a waiting period, it means that the woman must take two days off, travel to and from the clinic twice, and arrange for child care on multiple days.

Reduction in the availability of abortion does not necessarily reduce the number of abortions.  We recently posted global data showing that less liberal abortion laws actually correlate with higher rates of abortion.  The data below, also from Guttmacher, show that were abortion laws are less liberal (largely in developing countries), the rate of abortion is 34/1,000 women oer year, compared to 39/1,000 in developed countries (the difference may look significant here, but imagine how trivial it would look if the horizontal axis went all the way to it’s true maximum of 1,000):

Guttmacher explains that the relevant variable isn’t availability of abortion, but the unintended pregnancy rate (which is surprisingly high in the U.S.).

Barriers to accessing abortion, then, don’t lower the abortion rate.  They do, however, increase the likelihood that an abortion procedure will occur later in pregnancy and guarantee a greater logistic burden on the pregnant woman.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

In a collection of alcohol ads from the 1960s and ’70s, Retronaut included an ad that is a nice example of how marketers sometimes co-opt social movements.  In this case, the co-optation works against the movement, sending the opposite message that it intended.

“I never even thought of burning my bra until I discovered Smirnoff,” says a woman with bedroom eyes.   The message, of course, is not that a woman who drinks the vodka will become politicized; instead, it is that Smirnoff will “loosen her up” and facilitate seduction.

We’ve posted other examples of this phenomenon, including a series of Playboy illustrations that co-opted the feminist movement (“Male supremacy is all right — but I favor a different position”) as well as the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements.  We’ve also collected instances of feminist rhetoric being used to market a wide range of products and, of course, there’s always the remarkable “torches of freedom” pro-smoking campaigns.

The bra-burning story, incidentally, is a myth.  In 1968 feminists protested outside of the Miss America pageant; they threw many items deemed oppressive into a trash can: bras, yes, as well as cosmetics, high heels, etc.  They didn’t light the trash can on fire.  The idea that they burned bras was added later, in an effort to link the Women’s Movement to the Anti-War Movement (remember that draftees were burning their draft cards).  The Anti-War Movement was, at the time, being taken more seriously, so the link was meant to give feminism more credibility.  Instead, the idea of feminists burning bras became a humorous cultural trope, hence the ad above.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

The cartoon added below inspired me to revive this post from 2008.

Many believe that the U.S. is at the pinnacle of social and political evolution. One of the consequences of this belief is the tendency to define whatever holds in the U.S. as ideal and, insofar as other countries deviate from that, define them as problematic. For example, many believe that women in the U.S. are the most liberated in the world. Insofar as women in other societies live differently, they are assumed to be oppressed. Of course, women are oppressed elsewhere, but it is a mistake to assume that “they” are oppressed and “we” are liberated. This false binary makes invisible ways in which women elsewhere are not 100% subordinated and women here also suffer from gendered oppression.

(If you’re interested, I have a paper showing how Americans make these arguments called Defining Gendered Oppression in U.S. Newspapers: The Strategic Value of “Female Genital Mutilation.”)

I offer these thoughts are a preface to a postcard from PostSecret.  The person who sent in the postcard suggests that she’s not sure which is worse: the rigid and extreme standard of beauty in the U.S. and the way that women’s bodies are exposed to scrutiny or the idea of living underneath a burka that disallows certain freedoms, but frees you from evaluative eyes and the consequences of their negative appraisals.

Cartoonist Malcolm Evans drew a similarly compelling illustration of this point, sent along by David B.:

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Amber W. sent in this ad for laser eye surgery:
See our post on the surprising history of the Rosie the Riveter icon.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

The declining birth rate in Latin America, depicted in this graph, is a nice example of the way that both cultural and social change affects individual choices.  Brazil is highlighted as an extreme case. It’s birthrate has fallen from over six children/woman in 1960 to under 1.9 today.

The accompanying Washington Post article, sent in by Mae C., explains that the decrease in the birthrate since the 1960s is related to migration to cities.  In rural areas children are useful. They can help with crops and animals.  In crowded and expensive cities, however, they cost money and take up space.  Economic change, then, changed the context of individual choices.

This transition — from a largely rural country with high birthrates to an industrialized one with lower birthrates — has been observed across countries again and again.  It’s no surprise to demographers (social scientists who study changes in human population).  But Brazil did surprise demographers in one way:

…Brazil’s fertility rate fell almost uniformly from cosmopolitan Sao Paulo, with its tiny apartments and go-go economy, to Amazonian villages and the vast central farming belt.

The decline in birthrate, in other words, has occurred across the urban/rural divide. Demographers attribute this to cultural factors.  The idea of “an appealing, affluent, highflying world, whose distinguishing features include the small family” has been widely portrayed on popular soap operas, while Brazilian women in the real world have made strong strides into high-status, well-paid, but time-intensive occupations.  They mention, in particular, Brazil’s widely-admired first female president, Dilma Rousseff, who has one child.

Ultimately, then, the dramatic drop in the birthrate is due to a combination of both economic and cultural change.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Earlier this month I read an essay that explained to me why I am not married. These reasons included:

  • I’m a bitch.
  • I’m shallow.
  • I’m a slut.
  • I’m a liar.
  • I’m selfish.
  • I don’t think I’m good enough.

I’m not kidding.

Coincidentally, the Pew Research Center released 2010 data showing that just 51% of all American adults were currently married. This is an all time low, down from 72% in 1960.

Comparing this data with the essay above is a nice illustration of the difference between “normative” and “normal.”  Normal is what is typical in a statistical sense; it is what actually holds.  Normative is what is believed to be good and right in an ideological sense; it is what it is believed does or should hold.

If you go by the essay, written by the thrice married and now single Tracy McMillan, marriage is an ideal state that we all should, or do, desire.  In her reality, if you aren’t married, it’s because you’re doing something wrong.  Marriage is normative.  In actual reality, though, the state of being married is not any more normal than the state of being unmarried.

Only if marriage is normative does the non-normality of marriage become something that needs explaining.  McMillan jumps in with hateful stereotypes, but social science has much better explanations.

  • Low-income women often do not take-for-granted (as many middle class people do) that they can sustain a marriage through tough times.  Accordingly, they wait much longer before marrying once they meet someone they like (as long as 10 years or more), so that they can be as sure as possible about the match.  In other words, they take marriage very seriously and are reticent to just jump right in.  They know they’re “good enough,” Tracy; in fact, they value themselves and their relationships enough to really put them to the test.  (Read Promises I Can Keep for more.)
  • Other women get divorced because men don’t do their fair share.  Unresolved conflicts over childcare and housework are one of the top reasons that couples dissolve.  Women struggle to keep up when they’re working a full time job and doing 2/3rds to 3/4ths of the childcare and housework.  They may not see the data, but they may intuit that single mothers do less housework than married ones (it’s true).  So they divorce their husbands.  They’re not “selfish,” they’re just trying to survive. (Read The Second Shift for more.)
  • Other people aren’t married because they’re in love with someone of the same sex.  They’re not “sluts,” they’re discriminated against.

And, just for the record:

  • I’m not married because I don’t want or need the state’s approval of my relationship and  I certainly don’t want it interfering if we decide to part.
  • I’m not married because the history of marriage is ugly and anti-woman; because I don’t like the common meanings of the words “wife” and “husband”; and because even today, and even among couples that call themselves feminist, gender inequality in relationships is known to increase when a couple moves from cohabitation to marriage (and I don’t think I’m so special that I’ll be the anomaly).
  • I’m not married because I’m opposed to the marriage industrial complex. It’s exploitative, stereotypical, and wasteful.
  • I’m not married because I value the fact that my partner and I decide to be together every day, even though we don’t have to jump through legal hoops to do otherwise.
  • I’m not married because I don’t want to support a discriminatory institution that has and continues to bless some relationships, but not others, out of bigotry.
  • I’m not married because I don’t believe in giving social and economic benefits to some kinds of relationships and not others.  I don’t believe that a state- or church-endorsed heterosexual union between two and only two people is superior to other kinds of relationships.

After reading some of the great comments, I’d like to add that I’m not married because of several points of privilege:

  • I’m not married because I live in a society that allows women to work, keep their paychecks, rent an apartment, and have a bank account.  (And, frankly, I think it’s kind of neat to be in the first generation of American women who can realistically choose not to marry. I like the idea of embracing that.)
  • I’m not married because both my partner and I are lucky enough to have  a stable, full-time job that offers benefits, so we don’t need to get married so that one of us can get the other health insurance or some other benefit.
  • I’m not married because we are both U.S. citizens and don’t have to marry in order to live together.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

The point is that when the normal and the normative don’t align it often leads to social conflict over the meaning of the gap.  Some people, like McMillan, may jump in to tongue-lash the deviants.  Others may revel in defending non-conformity.  In any case, it will be interesting to see how the conversation about marriage continues, especially if, as the trend suggests, married people become a minority in the near future.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Caroline Heldman’s Blog.

Demand #8 from the Occupy Wall Street list of demands is a call for a “gender equal rights amendment,” a good sign that OWS is thinking about inequality in all its various forms.  This sentiment, though, seems to be lost on (supposedly) liberal filmmaker, Steven Greenstreet, whose past work  includes documentaries about the Mormon influence in passing Proposition 8 and the conservative backlash against Michael Moore.  Greenstreet is also the proud creator of the website, Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street.  He was watching news coverage of the Occupy movement that inspired him to tell a friend,

Wow, seeing all those super smart hot chicks at the protest makes me want to be there… Hmmm… Yeah, let’s go with that.

We instantly went to Tumblr and made [Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street]. Our original ideas were admittedly sophomoric: Pics of hot chicks being all protesty, videos of hot chicks beating drums in slow-mo, etc. But when we arrived at Zuccotti Park in New York City, it evolved into something more.

There was a vibrant energy in the air, a warmth of community and family, and the voices we heard were so hopeful and passionate. Pretty faces were making signs, giving speeches, organizing crowds, handing out food, singing, dancing, debating, hugging and marching.

The evolution from “sophomoric” to “something more,” inspired by “community and family,” is not evident on the website.  Aside from the obvious reduction of activist women to sexual objects, this site is shockingly offensive in its inclusion of young women/girls, one with the caption “She is identified as being 18 years old.” [Hint: If you have to identify “her” as being of age, that’s a sign you probably shouldn’t be posting the photo.]

And these photos:

Greenstreet does not provide information about whether he gained permission from the girls/women featured, but since no names are provided, we can assume he did not systematically seek permission.

It is also unlikely that Greenstreet informed his subjects of his intention to post their photos on the Hot Chicks website.  With his accomplice, Brandon Bloch, Greenstreet shot a video with interviews of women in which it is clear they thought their words, not their bodies, would be the focus:

And in case the message that women are primarily sexual objects wasn’t clear, Greenstreet even includes photos of professional women in his voyeur collection:

Greenstreet has posted criticism on the Hot Chicks website like a badge of honor:

@JaeChick: Nothing like degrading women to get attention. You are a small, sorry excuse for a man.

@MeFunk: Whatsay you take down your sexist video, issue a formal apology to female protesters, and then I pour hot coffee on you?

He responded to critiques of sexism with the following statement:

Apparently a lot of controversy has erupted online from people passionately opining (among many things) that this is sexist, offensive, and dangerously objectifies women. It was not my intent to do that and I think the spirit of the video, and the voices within, are honorable and inspiring.

However, if you disagree with me, I encourage you to use that as an excuse to create constructive discussions about the issues you have. Because, to be honest, any excuse is a good excuse to bring up the topic of women’s rights.

Wow, what a humanitarian.  It appears that this fumbling display of overt sexism was really just a ploy to get us talking about women’s rights.  Thanks, Steven.

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Thanks to Katrin, Melanie L., Jessie W., and Nathan Jurgenson of Cyborgology for asking us to write about this topic!