Saturday, August 30, 2008

Let's talk about Sarah, and how the media are talking about Sarah

If McCain's decision to make Sarah Palin his running mate was an effort to attract HRC supporters, it strikes me as a ham-handed effort to do so if ever there was one.

Here's some analysis from over at the Feminist Law Prof. Blog. And here's some early analysis from the NYT. Needless to say, her stance on abortion alone is sufficient to alienate many who preferred Hillary for the Democratic nomination. Feminists have long known that just getting any woman elected to office does not advance the cause of women. Witness Margaret Thatcher, among others.

What I'm focused on right now, though, is some of the media coverage of her selection. I saw this by Timothy Egan in the NYT last night, headlined "Ms. Alaska." It was among the top-10 most emailed stories within a few hours of being posted to the website, and it still is. Here's an excerpt:

Palin eloped with her husband, Todd, a commercial fisherman, who later won the 2,000-mile Iron Dog snow machine (as snowmobiles are called in Alaska) race. * * * She’s a self-described “hockey mom,” which means something in Minnesota and Colorado, two battleground states.

As a University of Idaho graduate, a television sports reporter, a beauty queen who was Miss Wasilla and competed for Miss Alaska, Palin brings a bit of the “Legally Blonde” aspect to the race -– you underestimate her at your peril, as opponents found in Alaska, and in the movie.

I am familiar with the argument that all's fair when it comes to media coverage of national politics (witness what happened to Hillary), and I am big fan of Egan, but some of his comments overstep a line. He pokes fun at the names of Palin's children, for example. Would we do that to a male candidate? At least he notes that we underestimate her at our peril, which gives her credit for something (common sense? charisma?) and I'm moderately relieved that he or his editors didn't go with the headline, "Miss Alaska."

Gail Collins' column, McCain's Baked Alaska, is currently the most-emailed story on the NYT website. Here's an excerpt, with Collins' tongue firmly in cheek:

McCain does not believe in pandering to identity politics. He was looking for someone who was well prepared to fight against international Islamic extremism, the transcendent issue of our time. And in the end he decided that in good conscience, he was not going to settle for anyone who had not been commander of a state national guard for at least a year and a half.

Thank heavens that Collins is at least focused on ridiculing McCain, not Palin. Also note that she observes that Palin's credentials are not so different than those of Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor who was taken quite seriously as a possible running mate. Hmmmm.

The headline in today's print edition of the New York Times reads: "Alaskan is McCain's Choice; First Woman on G.O.P. Ticket." A subhead then reads: "A surprise pick" followed by "First-term governor, social conservative and Mother of 5." Now I think it would be fine if all headlines about vice presidential selections mentioned in the biographical material whether the person has children, but they don't. So, why is Palin's status as "mother of 5" in this front-page NYT headline?

More on Michelle

I was ruminating earlier this week about the intersection of race and gender in the Obama campaign's management of the candidate's wife, Michelle. A few days later I came across some scholarly analysis related to the topic. The article is titled: "Michelle Obama: The 'Darker Side' of Presidential Spousal Involvement and Activism," and it is by Gary S. Parks and Quinetta M. Roberson. Here the abstract:
Pundits and commentators have attempted to make sense of the role that race and gender have played in the 2008 presidential campaign. Whereas researchers are drawing on varying bodies of scholarship (legal, cognitive and social psychology, and political science) to illuminate the role that Senator Obama’s race and Senator Clinton’s gender has/had on their campaign, Michelle Obama has been left out of the discussion. As Senator Clinton once noted, elections are like hiring decisions. As such, new frontiers in employment discrimination law place Michelle Obama in context within the current presidential campaign. First, racism and sexism are both alive and well within the domains of politics and employment. And within both domains, the intersection of these biases uniquely handicap Black women. As such, Michelle Obama, as an individual who has broken the socially acceptable constrictions of race and gender, has suffered some backlash as a result of her beliefs and actions. Second, most racial and gender bias is not express, but unconscious. And these unconscious biases influence behavior—including voting and hiring/promotion. In that vein, there are instances during the 2008 campaign where unconscious biases against Mrs. Obama have occurred. Such instances are similar to fact-patterns in employment discrimination cases. Third, under Title VII, employment discrimination may be directed at a third party for their association with members of a disliked group. Here, some voters’ unconscious race and gender biases against Mrs. Obama likely affected/affects their voting decision vis-à-vis Senator Obama.

Also regarding Michelle, I was somewhat intrigued by this story in the ABA Journal's online edition this week. I am not sure I agree with the gist of this "most emailed" item. The story's headline is "How Michelle Obama's 'Savvy Sacrifice' Helped her Husband, " and it is based to some extent on assertions made in Time magazine last week. Here's the lede:

Working as an associate at a powerhouse international law firm based in Chicago, Michelle Obama had what many would have considered a dream job for a lawyer.

But she gave up the Sidley Austin job to pursue a public interest career. This "savvy sacrifice" has provided her husband, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, the platform he needed to run for public office, reports Time magazine.

First, I am certain that many (of you!) would agree that being an associate at a powerhouse firm is not a "dream job." It may represent a great opportunity right out of law school, but the attrition rate at large law firms is very high, and everyone knows it -- partners, associates, legal educators, other legal employers, etc. In short, it is not unusual for very talented lawyers to leave these jobs within a few years of taking them. Second, it is also not that unusual for those leaving big firms to take lower paying jobs when they go. Lawyers leave for opportunities with better, i.e., more sane, long-term prospects. That 's what Michelle Obama did. Much has been made in the media of her efforts to achieve work-life balance, so perhaps that influenced her, too. To call it a "savvy sacrifice" suggests that this was all part of a long-term strategy by the Obamas to further his political ambitions. Maybe it was -- but if so, aren't we supposed to look down on such behavior? How often have we heard Hillary criticized for being strategic and instrumentalist in her career? But then, she is most recently the candidate herself, not merely the supporting spouse.

On a related note, the "savvy sacrifice" term irritated me because it plays into gendered stereotypes that expect such sacrifice from women. Again, maybe that is how the Obamas saw it -- or maybe they were just making decisions that made sense for them at the time. Michelle Obama's career trajectory looks normal in this day and age. It also looks laudable -- but I wouldn't say sacrificial.

Finally, I have the impression that Michelle Obama has lost weight in the months since her husband's campaign really good traction and gained momentum. I don't know if she has or not, but I regret the incredible pressure she under regarding physical appearance.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Ode To HRC

My friend, a journalist wrote this... I thought you guys would appreciate it...

I want to join the sisterhood of the traveling pantsuit
Yves St. Laurent, please, plus a Prada boot
Never before has Hillary Clinton looked so good
That the old men in Washington couldn't understand, even if they should

Her speech, her sparkle, her tangerine duds
How many now wish they voted for her, instead of that stud
Perhpas she lost because of fatigue, or that damned Mark Penn
Who should have known when to say when

I hope HRC will come back in four years
Or eight if it's Obama -- but next time, no tears
And we'll look back on that night at the DNC
When the sisterhood of the traveling pantsuit launched its campaign for twenty-sixteen


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

New Census Bureau info on women's earnings and poverty in female-headed families

Each August, the U.S. Census Bureau releases data about the preceding year. Media outlets have been analyzing and publicizing various slices of this data, as I have noted in a previous post. Yesterday, the 2007 data on poverty, income and health insurance revealed some interesting information about women. Here are some of the gendered highlights (or lowlights, if you will!):

  • In 2007, the ratio for earnings of women who worked full time, year-round was 78% of that for corresponding men. The real earnings for men who worked full time, year-round climbed between 2006 and 2007, from $43,460 to $45,113. For women,the corresponding increase was from $33,437 to $35,102. These increases follow 3 years of annual decline in real earnings for both men and women. (I believe that the rate last year was $.77 to the male $1, so this represents a slight improvement for women).
  • For each of the 50 states, women had lower median earnings [than men?] in the 2007 American Community Survey (the basis for this data b/w the decennial censuses). The District of Columbia had the highest ratio of women's-to-men's earnings (93.4%).
  • Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Alaska had median earnings above $50K for men who worked full-time, year-round in the 2007 American Community Survey. No state had median earnings for women above $50K, but the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut had median earnings for women who worked full time, year-round above $40K.
  • Married couple families had a poverty rate of 4.9% compared with 28.3% for female-householder, no-husband-present families and 13.6% for those with a male householder and no wife present.
No comment. These sobering statistics speak for themselves.

Susan Faludi: "Second-Place Citizens"

In an op-ed piece in yesterday's New York Times, Susan Faludi (Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women (1991)) takes up the Hillary issue. In particular, she takes as her jumping off point the fact that Hillary's speech to the Democratic convention last night comes on the 88th anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Still, the focus of the column is women's discontent over Hillary's fate. Here's an excerpt:
“I see this nation differently than I did 10 months ago,” reads a typical posting on a Web site devoted to Clintonista discontent. “That this travesty was committed by the Democratic Party has forever changed my approach to politics.” In scores of Internet forums and the conclaves of protest groups, those sentiments are echoed, as Clinton supporters speak over and over of feeling heartbroken and disillusioned, of being cheated and betrayed.

Monday, August 25, 2008

technically legal, but practically difficult

That is what is suggested about abortion availability in Mexico City in this story in today's New York Times. Reading it reminded me of the reality of abortion access in much of the United States.

"the most closely managed spousal rollout in presidential campaign history"

That's a quote from Jodi Kantor's NYT story about Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention tonight in Denver. She describes Obama as a "once reluctant campaigner" who "is at the center of a multimedia charm offensive that may be the most closely managed spousal rollout in presidential campaign history. On Monday night, Mrs. Obama delivered a prime-time speech at the Democratic National Convention, preceded by an intricately made biographical video, a touch usually afforded to candidates, not their wives"

So my question is: Why? Does this signify that male politicans' wives are an increasingly important part of our bases for assessing candidates? Recalling 1992, it is hard to imagine a Presidential candiate's wife more scrutinized than Hillary was then, 'though I don't know if I'd call what Clinton's campaign did with her a "charm offensive." Or is it that the country is more concerned about a woman who has a career and a family having already had one (Hillary!) in the White House. Perhaps the perceived need to "manage" Obama relates to the intersection of race and gender? Is Obama perceived as more dangerous or problematic because she is an African-American woman?

Whatever is motivating her "managers," who no doubt have the best interests of the Obama campaign at heart, I say "you go girl!" Like Hillary, she's a terrific role model for us.

Help Needed to Defeat Proposition 4

Thanks to Jen Smith '07 for sending this:

Planned Parenthood Advocacy Volunteers - We need YOUR help once again.
We cant lose now!

Volunteer to Keep Teens Safe
Phone bank to educate targeted undecided voters on the dangers of Prop 4

YOU could make the difference
Each phone bank could reach almost 1,000 voters!

5:30 to 8:30pm, Midtown Sacramento
Training, Campaign Update, Snacks
Calling voters amongst other amazing volunteers
End with a debrief

Wednesdays and Thursdays
Sept 10 to Oct 30
Stay tuned for more dates

We need YOUR help, Sign up TODAY!
Member of a Community Group? Adopt a Phonebank!
Contact Katharyn at 916-446-5037 x131

For more information, visit this link

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

5th Annual Prostitution, Sex Work, and Human Trafficking Conference

(I might try to attend this conference)

5th Annual Prostitution, Sex Work, and Human Trafficking Conference
Start: 09/18/2008 - 06:12
End: 09/19/2008 - 06:12
To bring together researchers and practitionersin an effort to lay the groundwork for future collaborative research,advocacy, and program development. To educate social service, healthcare, and criminal justice professionals on human trafficking and theneeds and risks of those victimized by the commercial sex industry.
Conference Location
University of ToledoStudent Union Rooms 2582, 2584, 25912801 W. Bancroft St.Toledo, OH 43606
For more information visit their

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More on moms, this time because there are fewer of them

See this story by Katie Zezima in today's NYTimes, with the headline "More Women Than Ever Are Childless, Census Finds." Here's a quote:

Twenty percent of women ages 40 to 44 have no children, double the level of 30 years ago, the report said; and women in that age bracket who do have children have fewer than ever — an average of 1.9 children, compared with the mean average of 3.1 children in 1976.

“A lot of women are not having any children,” said Jane Lawler Dye, a Census Bureau researcher who did the report, which looked at women of childbearing age in 2006. “It used to be sort of expected that there was a phase of life where you had children, and a lot of women aren’t doing that now,” Ms. Dye said.

I look forward to the time each year, in August, when the Census Bureau releases its annual reports based on figures for the prior year. It provides so much food for thought, and this story summarizes a lot of rich, current data about moms in the United States.

Next week, we'll get the rural and urban poverty stats for 2007, and we'll learn if the gap between the two continues to widen.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Gotta' love the 33-year-old silver medalist -- who's a Mom!

Don't want you to think I'm anti-Mom after that last post . . . and here's an especially inspiring Mom: Oksana Chusovitina.

Here's a story about the gymnast's departure from Russia, where there was no capacity to treat her son's leukemia. Germany took her in, and today she won a silver medal for them. Read the NYTimes coverage here.

"Woman to Woman, Online"

That was the headline of one of the most emailed stories in the NYTimes earlier this week, and it was picked up in today's Sacramento Bee, too. The story, which ran in the business pages under the "Advertising" subhead, is about how women bloggers are raking in the advertising dollars.

It inspired my blogpost on LegalRuralism yesterday, and as I thought further about what I wrote there, I realized there was more to say --from a feminist angle. What strikes me in this is the popularity of the so-called "mommy blogs." One woman featured is Heather Armstrong of Ad income has permitted both her and her husband to quit their jobs. Here's an excerpt from the NYTimes story, which notes the popularity of other standard women's fare -- fashion and make up:
Sites aimed primarily at women, from “mommy blogs” to makeup and fashion sites, grew 35 percent last year — faster than every other category on the Web except politics, according to comScore, an Internet traffic measurement company. Women’s sites had 84 million visitors in July, 27 percent more than the same month last year, comScore said.
Don't get me wrong, I'm delighted these women are making good money and better securing their own financial security, as well as that of their children. But I'd like to know more about women's blogs that are not in the "mommy" category -- or the hair, make-up, and fashion category. Are they equally successful? who reads them?

I am concerned about the romanticization of motherhood that may be signified by the popularity of these blogs. Is this another indication that motherhood is essentialized for women? (Bridget Crawford of Pace University gave a great talk on this topic at "Working from the Ground Up: Equality's Future, A New Legal Realism Conference Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Feminism and Legal Theory Project" in March, 2008). Or, does this just mean that mommies have more time on their hands to read these witty blogs? And, as the NYTimes story notes, that they are the ones who make many household goods purchasing decisions?

Could it be that my musings on this topic are just sour grapes because JCPenney, Crate & Barrel, and Walgreens are not supporting my blogging habit? Let's face it, domesticity is not my favored content topic . . . .

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A very practical reason to marry or divorce -- albeit a decidedly unromantic one

Here's a short excerpt from today's NYT story,by Kevin Sack: "Health Benefits Inspire Rush to Marry, or Divorce":

Though money and matrimony have been linked since Genesis, marrying for health coverage is a more modern convention. For today’s couples, “in sickness and in health” may seem less a lover’s troth than an actuarial contract. They marry for better or worse, for richer or poorer, for co-pays and deductibles.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A couple of "gendered" news items from the ABA Journal

Here's one about a woman who sued her law firm employer for discrimination, based in part on a partner telling her she was not "sweet" enough. A federal judge in Manhattan has said that the managing partner's comment to Catriona Collins could be construed as "discriminatory animus supporting the woman's bias and retaliation suit."

Here's another about the AutoAdmit scandal, in which male bloggers said things about female law students, including suggesting that they should be raped. The plaintiffs say the AutoAdmit posts defamed them and were "sexually harassing and threatening." Needless to say, based on what I have written, I agree.