Category Archives: life

Mind the gap!

Today is Equal Pay Day according to an AFL-CIO email I just received. What they mean is that, on average, a woman needs to work a year and four months to earn what a man earns in one year. That means that it isn’t until sometime near the end of April that women catch up to what men earned the previous year.

While we all know households where a woman is the primary wage-earner, there is a persistent gap in the average earnings for men and women working full time, year-round. Forty-four years after the Equal Pay Act of 1963 mandated that men and women with equal experience and qualifications who do the same work be paid equally, women working full time, year-round make about 73 cents for every dollar men make. Or, put the other way around, men working full time, year-round, make 1.37 for every dollar women make.

To get a more specific sense of the inequality in different occupations, click here for the Bureau of Labor Statistics “Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers by detailed occupation and sex” Some interesting examples:

At the upper end of the economic spectrum:

  • The median CEO weekly salary is $1,907 for men and $1,422 for women, with men making $1.34 for every dollar women make (or, the other way around, women CEOs make about 75% of what men make)
  • Among lawyers, the median weekly salary for men is $1,891 and for women it is $1,333, so men make $1.42 for every dollar women make (or women make about 70% of what men make).

At the lower end:

  • Among cashiers, the median weekly income for men is $387 and for women it’s $327, so men make $1.20 for every dollar women make (or women make about 83% of what men make).
  • Among waitstaff the median weekly income for men is $401 and for women it’s $348, so men make $1.16 for every dollar women make (or women make about 86% of what men make).
  • Among housekeeping and janitorial staff the difference is about the same as for cashiers with income being only slightly higher.

The wage gap holds at the lower end of the economic spectrum as well as at the upper end but it’s worse at the upper end. And aside from the persistence of gender inequality in wages, it’s also important to be reminded of the startling income inequality between classes in the United States.

The AFL-CIO’s Union Voice campaign is asking people to contact their legislators to support two bills currently being considered in the U.S. Congress.

  • The Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 766 and H.R. 1338), which would provide more effective remedies for victims of wage discrimination on the basis of sex.
  • The Fair Pay Act (S. 1087), which would prohibit sex-based wage discrimination and would address the issue of comparable worth by calling for equal pay for equivalent work.

Please click through to support these bills. They are important bills. As the notice points out, given that the majority of households made up of a mother, a father and their children are households where both parents work, men and kids are hurt by the pay gap just as women are hurt by it. Pay inequality hurts men in opposite-sex partnerships because if their partners’ incomes are unfairly low, then the men themselves have to work more to make up the difference. This not only means more work, but also less time with family, and ultimately less time together.

Still, these bills alone won’t solve the problem. That’s because overt wage discrimination is not the only cause of the wage gap. The Fair Pay Act recognizes this by picking up on the issue of “equivalent work,” but even that fails to acknowledge some of the more persistent structural problems that underpin the wage gap.

Gender role socialization and the gender-typing of jobs probably have more to do with these structures than anything else.

For example, one important reason that men and women tend to have different salaries even when they are working full time doing the same jobs (take the waitstaff or the lawyers mentioned above) is that the men in those jobs may devote even more hours (in terms of overtime) than the women who work alongside them. Why? Often because it is women who take time away from the job to take care of children or aging parents. This gives men an edge in terms of earning seniority and promotions. This will not change based on the kinds of legislation being proposed. In fact, seniority is one of the reasons pay equity bills give for justifying differences in pay. So as long as women are more likely to take time off from work to take care of people, women as a group will tend to make less than men do.

There is another piece to that equation, too: Let’s say you are a woman, and you and your male partner both work full time. Let’s say you want to make decisions purely rationally, that is, without reference to gender roles, and you need to decide whose wages can be sacrificed for a while in order to tend to a child. Wouldn’t you choose the person with the lower wages? And that person would more likely to be you, the woman. The cycle is a hard one to break.

In addition, because of gender role socialization, men and women still don’t all do the same kinds of jobs. And within broad job categories they don’t choose the same specializations. Take teaching. High school teachers make more than kindergarten teachers. Kindergarten teachers (who make an average of $555 a week) are much more likely to be women than to be men. High school teachers are slightly more likely to be men than to be women and make an average of $950 if they’re men and $890 if they’re not. Among doctors, cardiologists are much more likely to be men than to be women. In the medical field in general, women are much more likely than men to be registered nurses. Cardiologists make a lot more than registered nurses, just like high school teachers make a lot more than kindergarten teachers.

Some part of that division, too, comes down to expectations about family roles. To be a cardiologist requires putting several years-worth of incredibly long hours of highly specialized training. This is a difficult thing to do if you want to have a family. But it is much more difficult if you are a woman and you want to have a family than it is if you are a man and you want to have a family. Why? Because generally, if you are a man and you want to have a family, you imagine that you will have a woman who will do much of the home/family support work. Men less often perform the kind of work/family calculus that women expect to have to perform.

What would it take for women not to be handicapped at work by the expectation (and their own desires) to be primary care givers? It would certainly take better organized and subsidized child care. It would take radical changes in the way that health care and care for the aging are managed.

What would it take for women to be better represented in jobs that are traditionally male jobs? Not much more, actually, than we’re already doing. Women are going into previously male-dominated professions at increasing rates.

The bigger question is this one: What will it take to get men into jobs that are predominantly “women’s” jobs — jobs like child care, nursing, home health care, and so on. Because if some women move out of these jobs and move up the ladder, so to speak, people will have to take their places. If those people are also women, we haven’t changed the balance at all.

And men, as human beings, are harmed by the social pressures that cause them to exclude themselves from jobs that would emphasize their capacities for love, compassion, and nurturing. Children are harmed, too, as they get less nurturing contact with the adult men in their lives.

What keeps men from these jobs? One thing is wages. They don’t generate enough income. Another is socialization. We imagine that taking care of children or cleaning up after people is “women’s work.”

And then, unfortunately, we devalue it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Other resources for pay equity action:

Coalition of Labor Union Women

National Committee on Pay Equity

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Filed under activism, culture, Family, feminism, Gender, inequality, life, News and politics, sexism

More on the Awfulness that is Gonzalez v. Carhart, the first successful nationwide banning of an abortion procedure

As if the outcome of the decision weren’t bad enough, there are aspects of the majority opinion that are especially offensive. For example:

The Act also recognizes that respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in a mother’s love for her child. Whether to have an abortion requires a difficult and painful moral decision, Casey, 505 U. S., at 852-853, which some women come to regret. In a decision so fraught with emotional consequence, some doctors may prefer not to disclose precise details of the abortion procedure to be used. It is, however, precisely this lack of information that is of legitimate concern to the State. Id., at 873. The State’s interest in respect for life is advanced by the dialogue that better informs the political and legal systems, the medical profession, expectant mothers, and society as a whole of the consequences that follow from a decision to elect a late-term abortion. The objection that the Act accomplishes little because the standard D&E is in some respects as brutal, if not more, than intact D&E, is unpersuasive. It was reasonable for Congress to think that partial-birth abortion, more than standard D&E, undermines the public’s perception of the doctor’s appropriate role during delivery, and perverts the birth process. Pp. 26-30.

Where to begin!

  • “The Act also recognizes that respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in a mother’s love for her child.” Oh really? Not in our love for one another? Not in our efforts to end human rights abuses or to demand social justice or equality? Specifically, the ultimate expression of respect for human life is the the love of mothers for their kids? This is a philosophy of human love and respect for life that is much more useful for controlling women’s sexuality than for protecting the dignity of full human life.
  • “In a decision so fraught with emotional consequence, some doctors may prefer not to disclose precise details of the abortion procedure to be used. It is, however, precisely this lack of information that is of legitimate concern to the State.” Congress thinks that it is protecting women from doctors who won’t tell them the whole truth about abortion procedures and thus might lead them into decision that they will regret later? Oh come on.
    • First of all, it’s true that women sometimes regret their decisions. But women also regret their choices to give birth. Lots of difficult life decisions and life circumstances lead to regrets. Therapy and good friends and appropriate care and a society that offers compassion instead of stigma can all help. And when it comes down to it, it seems less damaging to cope with the regret of having an abortion than the regret of having a child!
    • Second, it’s hard to imagine that there are lots of doctors out there lying to women so that they can do abortion procedures that the women might not like. A woman seeking a late-term abortion is not in a happy place, to be sure. Her doctors are likely trying to make her situation as tolerable as it can be. Doctors are not infallible by any means, but they are generally well intentioned.
    • Third, it is hard to credit Congress, at this point, with being the “full disclosure, complete information” people! Please! Especially when dealing with issues of life and death. Issues like, oh, say, war. Sure we’ll send your kids off to war without bothering to know or share complete information. But don’t let those doctors try to make a woman’s difficult situation any easier to handle.
  • “It was reasonable for Congress to think that partial-birth abortion, more than standard D&E, undermines the public’s perception of the doctor’s appropriate role during delivery, and perverts the birth process.” Congress thinks that it is acceptable to determine what procedures doctors can perform based not on the medical integrity of the procedure but based instead on the public’s perception of the procedure? Congress is afraid that if doctors perform abortions the public will lose faith in those doctor’ abilities to deliver babies?

Actually, there is a telling bit of text there: “undermines the public’s perception of the doctor’s appropriate role during delivery.” Are they afraid we’ll go back to a system of midwifry where women helped each other through birth and where the beginnings and endings of life were not quite so medicalized as they are today? Where experts and organizations had less control over our lives, and especially over women’s lives?And then there is the sentence that Feminist Law Profs call the scariest sentence in the decision:

The Act’s failure to allow the banned procedure’s use where ” ‘necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for preservation of the [mother’s] health,’ ” Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New Eng., 546 U. S. 320, 327-328, does not have the effect of imposing an unconstitutional burden on the abortion right.

The rationale? Because if the mother’s health was truly in jeopardy the doctor could inject the fetus with something that would kill it and then do a D&E instead of an “intact D&E” and the procedure would be legal because the extraction would be of a dead fetus and not a living fetus. This is about the most twisted logic I can imagine: It’s all about where you kill the fetus? It’s all about the public image of the procedure? (A public image that was very skillfully manipulated by anti-choice activists who framed the issue as “partial birth abortion,” in the first place.)

No, it isn’t really all about those things. It’s also really about beginning to chip away at access to abortion. Period. It’s really about forcing women to continue pregnancies that they do not want to or cannot continue and it is about continuing to exert as much control as possible over women’s lives.

Register your outrage!

Act out! Speak up! Plan rallies. Write about it. Leave comments here and on the other feminist and pro-choice blogs that are mobilizing. Support organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL and legislation like the Freedom of Choice Act. Support research by organizations like the Guttmacher Institute and SIECUS which both offer sane, rational, well-grounded information about sexuality and reproductive health.

It won’t stop here.

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Filed under abortion, activism, Family, feminism, Gender, Gonzales v. Carhart, Health, life, News and politics, pro-choice, public discourse, sex, sex and health, sex education

Shocking.

Today the US Supreme Court for the first time upheld a nationwide ban on an abortion procedure. The Court ruled on two challenges to the “Partial Birth Abortion Act” of 2003. One challenge was brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of physicians who provide abortions (Gonzalez v. Carhart) and the other was brought by Planned Parenthood Federation of America on behalf of it’s network of women’s health clinics.

Here is a link to the act and here is a link to today’s decision.

You might recall that back in 2000 the Supreme Court rejected a Nebraska ban on this same set of procedures (less dramatically and more medically accurately called “intact dilation and extraction”) because it failed to include an exemption in the case that the mother’s health was at risk.

The current ban also fails to provide such an exemption.

So, how could it be upheld by the same court that rejected Nebraska’s ban? There are two main differences. First, this is not the same court, really. With the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor and the appointment of Samuel Alito, the balance on the court tipped toward the conservative on reproductive rights issues. Second, there is an interesting bit of legal-but-logic-defying procedural stuff that Tom Joaquin might be able to speak to better than I, but that goes something like this, as argued in the findings in Section 2 of the Act.

  1. In the Nebraska case, (Stenberg v. Carhart, 2000) it was a Federal district court that first found that the law in question placed too great a burden on women because of it’s failure to allow the procedure to protect a woman’s health. In reaching that decision, the Federal district court in that case found there to be significant medical evidence to support the claim that this procedure is sometimes necessary to protect a woman’s health. On appeal, the 8th Circuit court found that the findings on which the district court based its decision were not “clearly erroneous” even though many anti-abortion activists claim that the procedure is never medically necessary and is sometimes even harmful to a woman’s health. The US Supreme Court agreed that the lower court’s findings, while in dispute, were not “clearly erroneous.”
  2. Congress, on the other hand, is apparently not bound by those findings. So, in the push to pass the “Partial Birth Abortion Act of 2003,” Congress held lots of hearings at which enough people said “this procedure is gruesome and is never medically necessary and even sometimes harms women,” that Congress indeed found that the procedure “is a gruesome and inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited,” and it passed the ban.
  3. So, in this set of cases, the Supreme Court was presented with a new set of findings, these by the US Congress, that the procedure is never necessary to protect a woman’s health and so, voila, they allowed the ban to stand even though it failed to include an exemption for the health of the woman.

Shocking. Congress is authorized to determine what is medically necessary. Congress is authorized to determine what is medically accurate. A body that is at its core a political body and not a scientific body — this group gets to decide, according to the Supreme Court, what procedures are appropriate for safeguarding a woman’s health. Mind you, we are not talking about Congress deciding what procedures to offer fund with public health money. No, we are talking about Congress deciding what procedures your doctors are allowed to perform. And the penalty for performing a prohibited abortion? A fine and or up to two years in prison. Two years in prison for performing a procedure that many doctors and pregnant women find medically necessary in order to preserve the woman’s health.

Shocking. The law also contains a provision for civil suits to be brought against doctors who provide the banned procecures. Under section 1531 (c)(1):

The father, if married to the mother at the time she receives a partial-birth abortion procedure, and if the mother has not attained the age of 18 years at the time of the abortion, the maternal grandparents of the fetus, may in a civil action obtain appropriate relief, unless the pregnancy resulted from the plaintiff’s criminal conduct or the plaintiff consented to the abortion.

Look at the continued privileging of husbands in marriage (though notably not fathers in general). If married to the mother of the fetus, the father can bring a civil suit. There are two problems here: the first is that it asserts that husbands are harmed when their wives attend to their own medical care and, with their doctors, choose procedures with which the husbands disagree. Second, it privileges husbands over all other kinds of partners.

This is all the more frightening in light of other recent findings — findings that abstinance-only sex ed, for example, doesn’t work, even though Congress and the President continue to authorize money for advancing abstinance-only approaches. (Click here for the study — a 10 year examination of these programs.) Are we moving into an era where young people have less access to medically accurate information about pregnancy and disease and at the same time fewer outlets for dealing with unwanted pregancies?

This is an opportune moment to ask you to act: The REAL (Real Education About Life, S.972/H.R.1653) Act is again before Congress. It is being cosponsored by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Christopher Shays (R-CT). It was first introduced back in 2005. We need it NOW. Senator Lautenberg’s web site calls it “a bill that would authorize federal funds for states to offer comprehensive and medically accurate sexual education in their schools” and notes that

“there are three separate federal programs that fund abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, but no federal funding currently exists specifically for comprehensive sexuality education. Currently, states can only receive funding if they agree to teach abstinence-only-until-marriage while excluding information about the health benefits of contraception to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.”

Please support the REAL Act and demand that the government specifically fund comprehensive sex education.

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Filed under abortion, activism, Education, Family, feminism, Gender, Gonzales v. Carhart, Health, life, News and politics, pro-choice, public discourse, reproductive freedom, sex, sex education

Our kids are born sexual. Now what do we do?

My mother says I don’t write enough about positive things in this blog, and she’s right. So I’ve decided to start a book review section where I’ll tell you about books I think help to create a healthy and open sexual environment. This is a great moment to begin, because I just read a fantastic book about kids and sex.

The book is called Everything you never wanted your kids to know about sex (but were afraid they’d ask: The secrets to surviving your child’s sexual development from birth to the teens by Justin Richardson and Mark Schuster, published by Three Rivers Press (2004) and I think the title says a lot, but not enough. For one thing, the book is clearly intended to not only to help parents survive their child’s sexual development, but to help the child survive the parents’ anxiety about his or her sexual development. In that way it teaches parents how to help shape their children’s sexuality in healthy ways. For another thing, it acknowledges the fear that parents often have about dealing with their kids and sex, and yet I think for many parents the issue is the “afraid they’ll ask” not the “never wanted them to know” part. I think a lot of parents want their kids to figure it out without having to talk about “it.” This book helps parents figure out how to talk about “it.”

One reason I like the book so much is that it starts out with an important-but-difficult-to-accept reality: talking to kids about sex isn’t going to make them sexual. Kids are already sexual. They lead into this with a short bit about observing a male fetus on an ultrasound and pointing out that it has an erection: sexual arousal occurs even before birth. Sexual response is biological. It is shaped, structured, and channeled by culture and socialization, but it is at its base a biological reality and it exists in babies just as it exists in adults.

Richardson and Schuster, both doctors with very down-to-earth attitudes (a psychiatrist and a pediatrician/public health specialist both with very impressive resumes), take on subjects like childhood sexual development, kids and sex play, masturbation, the Internet, discussions about abstinence, safer sex practices. And in all these areas their main focus is on open discussion, accurate information, and remaining calm. They explain that their approach to sexual development is based on putting children’s health first and they define health in a very comprehensive way:

Our definition of health includes physical health, by which we mean the absence of sexually transmitted disease and unintended pregnancy, and safety from sexual abuse and violence; and emotional health, by which we mean the ability to take pleasure in sex, the freedom of mind to make choices about love and sex, the possession of a meaningful value system to guide those choices, and the presence of strong self esteem. (p. 9-10)

They do all this with great humor and an sensitivity to the real strain, concern, and fear that parents really feel around these matters. I discovered this book while browsing for parenting section of Books-a-Million with my sister, a mother of two young boys. We were so engaged by the book that we sat on the floor in the aisle and read out loud to each other. We read the section about what to do when your kid walks in on you when you’re having sex. One reason I’m telling you about this book: one real life scenario used as a model by the authors involved a same-sex couple — two men — and the authors presented this without comment on the sexual orientation of the couple. Instead, their focus was on the quality of the reaction that “Jack and Simon” had in the moment:

We still marvel at the composure of Jack and Simon. When their four-year-old boy walked in on them having sex, Jack managed calmly to say, “Oh, you found us doing the special thing that people in love do when they want to make each other feel good; now, which of us do you want to put you back to bed?” (p. 103)

They point out that the most important thing is not to hide, not to ignore it, to try an explanation that is simple and clear, like “When you came in we were having sex. It’s a way that grown ups like us show that they love each othe. Do you understand?” They recommend answering any questions that the child has, and then reminding the child to knock if the door is closed. In other words, they recommend treating it without alarm, as an everyday act, and moving on. (An example of the humor they bring to the book. They end that section with the remark, “You can now tuck your little one into bed, go back to your room, and perform CPR on your partner.”

Another reason I’d encourage you to take a look at this book is because of its strength in addressing questions about kids, sex, and the Internet. First, they point out that if your child or your teen is online in any interactive forum, there is a chance that she will be approached for sex. You can’t prevent this. What you can do is prepare your kid for it when it does happen. Richardson and Schuster recommend telling young Internet users that they’re safe as long as they don’t respond to such requests and don’t give out any personal information about themselves to people they don’t know. Teach them how to block senders of unwanted IMs and to let you know about the incident. (Then, when they do talk to you, don’t freak out, but calmly discuss it with them to get the details, and, I’d presume, to support them for having done the right things!) Second, Richardson and Schuster talk about the near-inevitable event that your child surfs to a porn site or some other site containing explicitly sexual content. They discuss the benefits and drawbacks of web browser filters and again focus on being open with your kids about sex so that they’re willing to talk to you about what they see.

There are lots of good reasons to check out this book. I can’t mention them all now but I’m sure I’ll be referring back to the book in future posts.

I encourage you to check out the website for the book. You can read selections from the book, read more about the authors, and ask questions, too.

It takes guts to talk to kids about sex. In this time of moral panic about kids and sex, though, it is as important as ever that adults step up to the plate early and create a healthy environment for their kids’ developing sexualities. This is truly the best way to protect them from harm.

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Filed under book reviews, culture, Education, Family, life, moral panic, public discourse, sex, sex and health, sexuality, sexuality and age

Who’s afraid of the ERA?

iwdlogo4.jpgToday is International Women’s Day, a day when we are supposed to celebrate women and encourage them to reach their full potential.

It extraordinarily difficult to reach one’s full potential when one is systematically discriminated against, of course, and I can only suspect it is for that reason that reason Taking Place is calling on bloggers to “blog against sexism” today.

Thinking about institutional sexism in the United States, the first thing that occurred to me was the inability of our country to pass the ERA.

The Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution (ERA) was first introduced to Congress in 1923. It failed. It was introduced into every session of Congress between that year and 1972, when it finally passed and then was sent to the states for ratification. It took nearly 50 years to be passed by both houses of Congress. Then, even with a three year extension it could not get ratified by enough states. It fell 3 short. Since 1982, when it failed to be ratified, it has been introduced into each session of Congress and has not been passed again.

It must be pretty damned controversial.

You’d it requires universal child care of health care. You’d think it requires companies to pay women and men equally. (No, that was the Equal Pay Act.) You’d think it requires unpaid work in the home to count toward social security pensions, or to be otherwise recognized as real work.

You’d think it mandates equal representation in Congress or something.

But it doesn’t do anything so radical as that. It’s a very simple, very basic statement that men and women are equal under the law. Here’s the text:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

Really. That’s all it is. How controversial is that? What would cause a Senator or Representative to vote against that?

Some have argued that equality between men and women has already been legislated: The Equal Pay Act forbids wage discrimination based on sex. Title IX requires that equal resources be given to men’s and women’s sports programs in schools. Women can vote, can own property, can run for and hold political office. Men can take “Family and Medical Leave Act” time. (Up to 12 weeks, unpaid – how generous!). Isn’t this enough? Why amend the Constitution to do what has already been done in legislation?

Simple: Because legislation can be undone. While a constitutional amendment can also be undone, it is much more difficult. As the folks at EqualRightsAmendment.org point out:

“Would anyone really want to turn back the clock on women’s advancement? Ask the members of Congress who have tried to cripple Title IX, which requires equal opportunity in education; who have opposed the Violence Against Women Act, the Fair Pensions Act, and the Paycheck Fairness Act; who voted to pay for Viagra for servicemen but oppose funding for family planning and contraception; who for over a decade have blocked U.S. ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).”

I know it isn’t especially fashionable to talk about the ERA, but I think it’s pretty incredible that a nation that claims its place as the foremost democracy in the world has not figured out a way to work equality between men and women into the document that defines its most deeply held governing principles. There are a lot of concrete problems that women face, in the US and in the world. These problems are easier to work on when there is a collectively held belief that women and men are equal.

A single but important example: take violence against women. Violence is a tool that is used to keep women subordinate, to make them afraid, and to prevent them from taking their places beside men as equals. (Homicide is the leading cause of death of pregnant women in the United States, and the second leading cause of death among young women, the first being accidents.) Amending the Constitution to insure equal rights for women would not end violence, but it would make a symbolic statement and a real legal platform from which to begin chipping away at the institutional sexism that still seeps through our culture, and that continues to make women targets of violence.

And isn’t that institutional sexism one reason that the ERA is so hard to pass in the first place? Remember, it took nearly 50 years from when it was first introduced in 1923 to be passed by Congress, and then over the course of 10 years it couldn’t manage to be ratified by enough states to become the law of the land. It has been introduced into every session of congress since then, and has never again passed a congressional vote so it could be sent to the states.

What are we afraid of? What is this about? Look back at the language of the amendment.

Is it really so frightening? Is it really so unimaginable?

Apparently so.

Blog Against Sexism Day Click on the image to read other Blog Against Sexism posts.

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Filed under activism, Blog Against Sexism, culture, feminism, Gender, life, News and politics, public discourse, sex, sex and the law, sexism

A few thoughts on Love this Valentine’s Day

Let today be a day when you freely express your love for another human being. It needn’t be romantic love, though certainly it could be. Just so long as it is love. Don’t be shy about it. Don’t be private about it. Do it publicly, openly, and unrepentently.

Let today be a day when you feel deeply your love of community. The biblical imperative to “love thy neighbor as thyself” is a good one to remember today. Let yourself feel the gratitude, love, or simple connectedness that you feel toward the people in your community who make it “home.” And a bit of self-love is in order, as well!

Let today be a day when that feeling of love for community radiates out to become an awareness of the connections we share beyond our communities, connections that tie all of us on the planet together.

Let today be a day to be mindful of the need for peace, for sharing, for connection, and for the part we each play in achieving peace, for sharing with each other, and for tending to the connections that bind us all together.

Love deeply and love widely.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

ps: A special Valentine’s kiss for Will, my partner-in-life and now in blogging!

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Filed under life, Personal Reflections, Valentine's Day

Segregating Sex

“As long as we equate sex with dirt, weakness, and guilt, a powerful weapon exists for demagogues who not only flatter supporters that they are disciplining their own erotic instincts correctly, but also advertise the values they profess as essential to living a good life.” – Jay Gertzman, “There has been no sexual revolution,” p. 315 in Russ Kick’s Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong, The Disinformation Company, 2006

I’m still thinking about the discussions we’ve been having about what is “mature” and about what people should be protected from stumbling across accidentally. There is no question that most of the “what” here is sex, or sexually explicit, or erotic material. That made me think back to the Jay Gertzman quote, above.

By making sexually explicit or erotic material the stuff from which we protect people – or to be more clear, the stuff we segregate into a separate space so that people don’t come across it accidentally, we continue to link sex with “dirt, weakness and guilt,” which Gertzman warns us against. We could add all kinds of things to the list of “dirt, weakness and guilt.” We could add “shame,” “secrecy,” “fear,” “embarrassment,” and perhaps other things as well, but “dirt, weakness and guilt,” seem to form the foundation for all those other things.

Of course there are people who don’t want to come across sexual material. But why should we cater uniquely to those people and not, say, to people who would rather not accidentally come across movie reviews, or blogs about gaming, or blogs about gambling, or blogs about politics? Why segregate sex?

It is true that the values of our dominant culture in the US assume sex to be something reserved for private spaces, something that is supposed to be shared only between partners in long term loving committed relationships. But our own dominant culture is riddled with examples of where that is not the case. One only need to look at advertising to see that. Yet that is really just an aside.

It is true that our dominant culture values assert that sex should be private. But that, as Gertzman claims, supports a dangerous ideology, so why should the public sphere of ideas be governed by that? Isn’t the public square or the public sphere the place where we are supposed to have the most open exchange of ideas, where we test ourselves and our worldviews against others and where we persuade others to change their minds, or where we change our own minds in the face of persuasive arguments?

Separating sexually explicit material out from the rest makes it seem equated with “danger,” “dirt,” “guilt,” and “shame,” and contributes to its usefulness as a weapon – a weapon that is useful for instilling fear into anyone who wants to be ‘respected’ by neighbors, co-workers, families, or bosses, and who has ideas that deviate from the dominant sexual script. For that matter, it is a tool that is useful for cowing anyone, because it becomes a source for accusations that are nearly impossible to refute. Remember how sex was used to keep blacks down? Whites just had to assert that black male sexuality was dangerous to white women. No proof necessary.

As long as sex is segregated from all other kinds of material, we will continue to let it be a tool for exploitation, oppression, discrimination, fear, and hate. The danger of sex is not in sex itself, but in the hiding of sex and the shaming of sex.

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Filed under censorship, community-building, Homophobia, life, Personal Reflections, public discourse, sex, sexuality

Blogging for Choice 2007 – A partial compilation

It was wonderful to read so many “Why I’m pro-choice” posts yesterday! Technorati cataloged more than 150 posts yesterday tagged with “Blog for Choice,” and I’m sure there were many others that used different tags.

Of course speaking up for reproductive and sexual freedom is something we shold do all year round, and many of us do, but it is important to have these days of concentrated focus to help build solidarity and draw renewed attention to the issue.

I’ve collected here just a few of the posts I read, and that I haven’t seen cross-posted in other places.

Tess’s “Blog for Choice Day” post at Urban Gypsy

Richard Jeffrey Newman’s “I’m pro-choice because I oppose slavery” at It’s All Connected

Lifewords’s Blog for Choice Haiku at Life Words

Meesh’s “Blog for Choice” at The Eph Word

Deborah Lipp’s “Blog for Choice: Why I’m pro-choice” at Property of a Lady

Bean’s “Why I support reproductive justice” at A Bird and a Bottle

Rachel Kramer Bussel‘s “Blog for Choice Day” post at Lusty Lady

Tugster‘s “Interruption,” (with great abortion-as-lifeboat analogy)

Figleaf has six posts at Real Adult Sex (where does he find the time?!) Of his six, these two were my favorites.

Tiffany Taylor’s “Am I pro-choice? Damn straight” at More Than The Sum of My Parts

And if that isn’t enough for you:

Here is a list and some excerpts over at Bush v. Choice, the ones who started it all.

And here is a list of blog entries from Technorati, all of which used the “Blog for Choice” tag.

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Filed under activism, Blog for Choice, community-building, Education, Family, Gender, life, News and politics, pro-choice, public discourse, sex, sex and health, sex and the law

Today is “Blog for Choice” Day!

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, and invalidated laws that banned abortions. This is the 34th anniversary of that decision. NARAL Pro Choice America and Bush v. Choice ask that we who are pro-choice take a moment today to publicly say why we support women’s right to access effective, safe, and legal means to end their pregnancies, should they need to do so.

I have been pro-choice for so long that I thought this would be a simple question to answer. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how many reasons there were.

There are the personal reasons: I was raised by a pro-choice mother in a family that respected women’s rights, valued equality, was open about sexuality. I remember telling my mother when I was 17 that I wanted her to take me to Planned Parenthood so I could go on the Pill because I wanted to start having sex with my boyfriend. She talked about how she wished I would wait a while, but also told me I was the only one who could know when I was ready, and she did take me, and I did get condoms and Pills, and my introduction to sex was much more positive for the openness and safety that surrounded it. Her sister, my aunt, worked at Planned Parenthood as a nurse for several years. The idea that women should have control over their reproductive health was simply taken for granted in my household growing up.

There are the political reasons: I support gender equality and women’s rights and neither of those can be achieved if women are forced to bear children against their will. They cannot be achieved if women do not have ultimate control over when, and if, to bear children. And there cannot be equality or freedom for women if, in order to be certain that they don’t bear children they must never have sexual intercourse with men. (And even for those who choose not to have sex with men, there are cases of rape to be considered.)

There are the moral reasons: To appropriate another person’s body without their consent is to enslave that person, as my friend and colleague Richard has written in his Blog for Choice post. Slavery is about as immoral as it gets. And morally, I do not believe that all life is equal. The life of a woman who is responsible for herself and others is, qualitatively, worth more than the life of a cluster of cells or even a fetus that cannot survive except as a parasitic being within her.

There are visceral emotional reasons: I can imagine what it feels like to be the frightened young woman working hard at getting ahead, suddenly pregnant and unwilling to give up the chance to have the future she dreams of. I can imagine what it feels like to be the mother of three who can’t bare to take away from her children the resources emotional and financial it would take to raise yet another. I can imagine what it feels like to be slowly falling in love with something growing inside me and at the same time be convinced that I cannot raise it, but could not bare to give it away after carrying it to term. I can imagine what it feels like to hate the thing that is growing inside me, put there by an assailant I never want to be reminded of and to feel like nothing is more important than being rid of it. I can imagine the heartbreak of the couple who, after trying to conceive, find that the child they have created will be unable to survive after it is born.

In my ideal world, there would be some button or switch we could activate when we wished to be fertile. Everyone would have such a button. That way men would not accidentally impregnate women. Nor could they impregnate women who didn’t wish to be pregnant. Women could neither accidentally get pregnant, nor could they “trap” a man into fatherhood, and abortions would be much less likely to be needed (though there still would be a need for abortions in the case of health risks).

We do not live in such a world. We live in a world where people, despite their efforts at preventing pregnancy, get pregnant. We live in a world where people are forced, against their will, to have sex. In other words, we live in a world where women must have access to safe and legal procedures for ending pregnancies that they do not wish to have.

And so there is my last reason, a practical one: I am pro choice because I know that, from the beginning of human history, women have found ways to end their pregnancies when those pregnancies have been unwanted. The criminalizing of abortion does not stop women from doing this. It only puts their lives and their families at and unnecessary risk. I am pro-choice because women need safe and legal ways to end their pregnancies sometimes.

I have been fortunate not to need an abortion, yet, myself. I have been sexually active for nearly 19 years and have, because of caution, resourcefulness and luck, not ever had a pregnancy. I know that I don’t want to bear children, though, and I’m certainly not going to stop having sex, so protecting the right to safe, effective and legal abortion procedures is very important to me. And on a much more urgent level, this right has been important to people that I know. I know women who have needed them, I have helped a friend acquire one, and cared for her afterwards. She struggled at first with the decision but ultimately decided that she needed to complete her education before having a child. I know a mom who had an abortion because her marriage was failing and she already had two young children she knew she was going to need to devote all her resources to. I know another woman who had an abortion because she was absolutely certain she was not cut out to be a mom. She’s now in her late 50s and is certain she made the right choice.

Ultimately it comes down to this: women are not safe in a society where they can be forced to bear a child, nor can they achieve equality with men if their only recourse to not bearing unwanted children is to forsake their sexuality.

I am reserving the comments section of this post for readers to offer their own “why I’m pro choice” comments. I will only approve comments on this post that are supportive of abortion rights. On any other post I will not censor debate, but this post not a debate on the issue. It’s simply a place for declarations of support for the right to safe and legal abortions. The debate can continue elsewhere today.

Check back later for a list of links to other Blog for Choice posts.

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The “Voice” of the Affluent, not the Alternative

Like many others, I was saddened to learn that Rachel Kramer Bussel would no longer be writing the sex column, “Lusty Lady,” for the Village Voice. I admire Rachel and I enjoy her writing. When I read on her blog that she’d been told her column was finished, I was disappointed. Then, when I read what the Voice had used to replace her, my disappointment turned to irritation and disgust.

Some of us had speculated that the Voice had hired someone “younger” and “newer,” but as it happens, the “newness” that they’ve turned to is the newness of middle-age and convention. The Voice has hired “two married mothers living in Brooklyn” whose greatest wish is to get their husbands to have sex with them.

Now, I’m glad when I see married women writing about sex. Sex ought not disappear — as an event or a topic for conversation — just because people have hitched their wagon to the state. And married women should share their experiences just like single or otherwise-partnered women should do. Women should talk about sex no matter what their relationship status. Women should talk about sex no matter what their class or their age would lead us to stereotypically expect from them.

But these women are professionals, living upper middle class seemingly conventionally-affluent lives, apparently with little sex to speak of, and nothing much to say. As some readers already pointed out, this type of column might have been suitable for New York magazine or the New York Times, but not for the Village Voice.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, the Village is not what it used to be. Sure it still hosts many interesting and alternative folks, but there is no mistaking that gentrification has succeeded in winding its tendrils throughout the neighborhood. Still, the Village Voice used to be an “alternative newsweekly,” and now, especially in its new sex column, it appears to be becoming the Voice of the Affluent, not the Voice of the Alternative. It’s not like I hadn’t noticed this happening. It’s not like I hadn’t noticed the increasing number of ads for cosmetic surgery, expensive day spas, and other luxuries-deemed-essentials of the elite creeping in among the ads for futons and second hand clothing and drag shows. (Anything that markets itself as a cosmetic procedure and comes with a “$500 off” coupon is way out of my league as luxury treatments go.)

But I digress. I am inclined to be happy when married women write about sex. I am a married woman, much to some people’s surprise, and while I don’t live in the most traditional of marriages, I find that — based on a very unscientific sample of my friends and colleagues — lots of married people don’t live in the most conventional of marriages. I’m totally up for reading about how people negotiate sex in their marriages, how they keep themselves sexually engaged, and how they deal with, or work around monogamy. There is lots of interesting material that married folk could put out there for everyone to enjoy.

So there is no excuse — other than a radical shift in market strategy — for what passed as the Voice’s sex column this week. First of all, it didn’t contain any useful information about sex. Instead it was really not much more than a catalogue of commercial endorsements. It’s amazing how many Nora Shelley works in. By name she mentions “Forever 21,” “Zoloft,” “City Bakery,” “Cosabella” ($60 bras and $20 thongs, mentioned twice), “Aeron” (as in the $750+ desk chair), “the Limited,” and “Starbucks.” Now, Forever 21 and City Bakery are places they actually spend time in during the events narrated in the column. The other mentions are pretty gratuitous. Is there any reason in the world we should care what kind of desk chair Essie Carmichael’s husband sits in to do his online “printer research?” And even worse, in the litany of product endorsements, the only item named that helped either woman achieve sexual satisfaction does not get its brand identified or promoted! What kind of sex column tells you exactly where to buy a dress that you don’t look good in, and a lunch that spoils your diet but then doesn’t name the amazing showerhead that is reportedly the best gift Essie has ever been given and the only thing with which Nora has had sex in years?

As if that weren’t bad enough, Nora Shelley, the one who wrote this week’s column and who isn’t getting any sex with her husband, has a housekeeper and a nanny and still can’t find time not to be exhausted. Not only that, she’s not creative enough to see immediately that sex with her husband should be easier if she’s got a nanny and a housekeeper, rather than more difficult as she believes it to be. And to make it all the worse, the tone is whiny and self-indulgent instead of hip and informative.

I suppose this change reflects what the Voice understands its readers to want. I suppose it means that the alternative crowd they believed they existed to inform has become an affluent-married-mainstream crowd. And perhaps that’s exactly what’s happened. But if you’re a Voice reader and you don’t fit that description, let them know.

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Filed under culture, Family, life, Personal Reflections, public discourse, Relationships, sex, sexuality, sexuality and age