Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Echoing that confidence theme again . . .

See this New York Times story assessing Palin's past performance in debates. (I've written before about Palin's confidence, such as here).

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Have you heard about Palin's Wasilla policy of requiring rape survivors to pay for their own "rape kits"?

This has been the most emailed item in the New York Times for almost 24 hours now. While I'm deeply upset by the choice Palin made in the name of balancing Wasilla's budget, I'm pleased to see that so many NYTimes readers appreciate the significance of Palin's decision and what it says about her understanding of sexual violence and the myriad legal, personal and economic decisions at stake in pursuing criminal charges against perpetrators of these crimes.

Author Dorothy Samuels speculates that Palin's decision was driven by "outmoded attitudes and boneheaded budget cutting." Probably, but in any event I add my voice to that of Samuels in calling for Palin to explain decisions like these, particularly as Palin relies so heavily on her record in Wasilla as evidence of her ability to lead.

Pressing reprodutive freedom issues in Sacramento, and more widely in California

I heard this week on the California Report (on NPR) that recent polls show Proposition 4, which would require minors to get their parents' permission to terminate a pregnancy and also impose a waiting period, leading by 48% to 41%. If you would like to volunteer to work against Proposition 4, please contact No on Prop. 4.

As a related matter, Sacramento NOW is organizing volunteer clinic defenders to work with various Sacramento clinics who are currently under siege. Women's Health Specialists, in particular, is in need. This clinic is on the "40 days for life" calendar, which means protestors will likely be ever-present at the clinic for the next few weeks. If you can volunteer to be a clinic defender, contact the Sacramento NOW chapter.

Friday, September 26, 2008

More evidence of gender discrimination with material consequences

See this from yesterday's New York Times on what happens to the salaries of those who have sex change operations, male to female and female to male. Here's an excerpt:
You might expect that anybody who has had a sex change, or even just cross-dresses on occasion, would suffer a wage cut because of social stigmatization. Wrong, or at least partly wrong. Turns out it depends on the direction of the change: the study found that earnings for male-to-female transgender workers fell by nearly one-third after their gender transitions, but earnings for female-to-male transgender workers increased slightly.
Thanks to Sally Schwettmann, '04 for calling this to my attention.

And I thought it was just me . . .

Judith Warner's most recent post to her Domestic Disturbances column struck a very personal chord with me. It also surprised me that the phenomenon Warner describes -- the phenomenon of female insecurity, the so-called impostor syndrome (which may also afflict men)-- is as widespread as Warner suggests. Warner writes:
[O]n Tuesday afternoon when I went to The Times Web site and saw the photo of Sarah Palin with Henry Kissinger, a funny thing happened. A wave of self-recognition and sympathy washed over me.

* * *

I saw a woman fully aware that she was out of her league, scared out of her wits, hanging on for dear life.

Warner goes on to say that Palin's evident impostor syndrome may be the women that so many women relate to her. Warner also compare Palin to Elle Woods, the "Legally Blonde" character who appeared to be in over her head, but who "charms her way into Harvard Law School and takes the stodgy intellectual elitists there by storm with her Anygirl decency and non-snooty (and not-so-credible) native intelligence."

Warner asserts that many women have an "inner Elle" and that hers is manifest "every time I dress up my insecurities in a nice suit."

I saw this feeling in Palin — in a flash, on that blue couch, catty-corner to Kissinger, as her eyes pleaded for clemency from the camera. I’ll bet you anything that her admirers — the ones whose hearts really and truly swell with a sense of kinship to her — see or sense it in her, too. They know she can’t possibly do it all — the kids, the special-needs baby, the big job, the big conversations with foreign leaders. And neither could they.

The critical bit of Warner's message is that --contrary to the Elle fairy tale--people cannot "do anything" just by believing in themselves. The message is not that we should not take risks and show confidence. (I wrote earlier that this is a page we might productively borrow from Palin's book). It is that it's hard--and highly perilous--to skip too many steps in reaching our goals. Moving to the next step is stressful enough. We are going to find ourselves in over our heads from time to time -- indeed, we need to do that to grow and advance personally and professionally. The problem with Palin is not that she's in over her head per se -- it is HOW FAR she is in over her head. She's clearly drowning. Do you think she even knew enough to imagine how in over her head she would be when she said "yes" to McCain's invitation to join him on the Republican ticket? But she can hardly jump off the treadmill now . . . Yikes.

That brings me to Warner's closing paragraphs, which note the disservice Palin's selection has done to all women. Warner goes as far as to call it an act of cruelty to Palin herself.

An act of cruelty, indeed. How many women will pay the price, in one way or another, for Palin's selection? How many of us will choose not to take the sort of "next step" risks we need to take and can constructively take, and how many of us will now not be given the opportunity to take those risks, all because of the spectacle of an in-way-over-her-head Sarah Palin?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A couple of items on work-life balance

were recently posted by King Hall's own Janet Wallace, Class of 2010, on the Ms. JD blog.

Read them here and here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

14 of the 25 MacArthur Fellows for 2008 are women

Read about them here, and see the eclectic list of winners who will receive $500K each, unrestricted. Of course, we already knew women were geniuses, but it's gratifying to see so many talented individuals recognized so publicly, and with such generosity, for their contributions.

"Super-Smart Noir with a Feminist Jolt"

Who can resist a headline like that one, from NPR? I heard this book review yesterday of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, a Swedish author and activist who died in 2004. His book was a major hit in Europe, and now it's been translated into English. It sounds like a terrific read for brainy, thinking women like us.

Here's a short excerpt from the review:
The social vulnerability of women is the underlying Mystery with a capital "M" here; specifically the abuse — psychological and sexual — that's perpetrated against young and dependent women. Very late in the novel, one of our main characters, a reporter named Mikael Blomkvist, asks a serial murderer whose victims are often female emigrants to Sweden the simple question: "Why?" The monster calmly answers, "Because it's so easy."
So, on the one hand, the book presents women as victims. That's an all-too-familiar story

But there is also a female hero, "24-year-old brilliant computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander. Salander is a pierced, tattooed, painfully thin Goth with major attitude problems. She's also the gal pal you want on your side when the creeps slither out from under their rocks. * * * Salander doesn't smile, knock back boilermakers or eat moose burgers. She's not out to win friends or votes. But I'm betting that this offbeat bad girl will win a lot of readers' affections."

Friday, September 19, 2008

An important op-ed piece about women's health -- co-authored by HRC

I just saw this on the op-ed page of today's New York Times -- and then when I went online saw it is the most emailed story on nytimes.com right now. Read this for some practical information on a law change that could profoundly affect women's health and further limit their reproductive rights. Hillary's co-author on this is Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

If you oppose this proposal, you have just a few days to make your voice heard to your elected representatives.

Extraordinary story about the overt sexism endured by an early female judge

Read it here in the ABA Journal online.

Does Oprah transcend cultures?

See the story here from today's New York Times about her popularity in Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Is Biden a "ladies' man" we can rally 'round?

The New Republic online, dated Sept. 24, features this column about Joe Biden, holding him out as having some seriously good feminist bona fides. The author of the piece is Fred Strebeigh, whose book Equal: Women Reshape American Law is forthcoming in Feb. 2009. Strebeigh's argument is based in large part on Biden's role in relation to Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a piece of early 1990s federal legislation with various provisions aimed at better protecting women from violence. A critical part of the law was subsequently struck as unconstituional by the Supreme Court in United States v. Morrison in 2000. But that's beside the point of the story Strebeigh tells about Biden in The New Republic. Here's an excerpt:
The mostly untold story of Biden's fight to support the "Civil Rights For Women" section of VAWA provides a window into his work for women, its origins, and how the defense of women's rights fits into his political worldview. Women voters may yet find something to cheer: In fighting for the legislation, Biden showed he was willing to trust the guidance of women activists and women judges, and then to contend against fierce and mostly male resistance in Washington, particularly from the Supreme Court.

* * *

The late '80s, Biden noticed, showed a rise in violent crimes against young women. Then, in December 1989, a man walked into a university classroom in Montreal with a hunting rifle, divided the students by sex, yelled that the women were all "a bunch of feminists," and killed 14 of them. Biden's aide Ron Klain handed the Senator an article in the Los Angeles Times by a friend who had clerked with Klain the year before at the Supreme Court, Lisa Heinzerling (now professor of law at Georgetown). Heinzerling connected that murder of "feminists" to a gap in U.S. law. Federal law tracking hate crimes targeted only, she wrote, a "victim's race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation." Thus, she argued, "if a woman is beaten, raped or killed because she is a woman, this is not considered a crime of hate"--a legal loophole "welcome to no one but the misogynist."

And it closes with this vignette that relates to the Morrison case.

Standing beneath an umbrella that carried the seal of the Senate, Biden made an argument for women's equality that VAWA's defenders could not make inside the Court because the Court did not wish to hear arguments based on the Fourteenth Amendment. "Men don't choose not to take jobs" for fear of gender- motivated violence, Biden said, but "women do alter their life patterns." Then he returned to his own stake in the law--adopting a "personal is political" stance close to the heart of Biden's political values as well as much feminism. The effort to protect women against gender-based violence, he argued, "empowers my daughter and granddaughters."

The civil rights section's effort lost, however, by a vote of 5-4 in the Court after Rehnquist reportedly lobbied O'Connor for her vote. Although the rest of VAWA remained law, it had lost the part that Biden most valued--the part that strove explicitly for equality.

Read the rest here.

One thing I found of particular interest in this story was how it played up the impression that Biden's reactions to the political and legal situation re VAWA were heavily influenced by the women in his life, or more precisely, his desire to protect them. This is something I've seen occasionally in men with whom I've worked -- except my own experience has been with men who've taken positions re: opportunity in professional or employment settings based on their sense (real or imagined) of their wives and daughters in those settings. (Didn't Obama do this in Denver, when he accepted the Democratic nomination and mentioned his own daughters' futures in relation to equal pay for equal work?) I have found that men with wives who work outside the home, or who see their daughters having professional futures, are more likely to be fair to women in the work-place and to give them equal opportunity there. That has meant that (typically younger) bosses with spouses who work outside the home have often done more to advance my career than men with stay-at-home wives.

But what may be motivating Biden is slightly different. His instincts seem paternalistic. The anecdotes from the story indicate that he is motivated to change the law because he realizes his wife's and daughter's vulnerability to violence. Fair enough, I guess. Better that he would want to do what he can, via law, than to be indifferent to their vulnerability. I just find it disappointing that more men don't view ALL women's inherent dignity as a reason for law-making that serves women's interests, be they personal/physical or professional.

Thanks to Sarah Farnsworth, 07, for passing along this story from The New Republic.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Would you like to add your voice to "Women Against Sarah Palin"?

Go here, and see what other women are saying. Some of the commentary is very powerful.

If you are so moved, chime in. The email address for comments is womensaynopalin@gmail.com.

Friday, September 12, 2008

More of Judith Warner on Sarah Palin

In case you haven't seen it, Judith Warner's column/blog this week, "No Laughing Matter," is based in large part on her visit to a Sarah Palin rally in suburban Virginia. There she chatted with a number of Palin fans, one of whom called the V. P. candidate a "big step forward for women." Warner characterizes as sobering and serious her encounters there with all the different varieties of moms, e.g., hockey, soccer, home-schooling. She concludes:

“Palin Power” isn’t just about making hockey moms feel important. It’s not just about giving abortion rights opponents their due. It’s also, in obscure ways, about making yearnings come true — deep, inchoate desires about respect and service, hierarchy and family that have somehow been successfully projected onto the figure of this unlikely woman and have stuck.

Read the entire Domestic Disturbances entry here.

She's nothing if not confident. Is that a lesson we could constructively take from Palin?

I was struck by this headline from the NYT today: "In First Big Interview, Palin says 'I'm Ready.'" Here's an excerpt from the story about Charles Gibson's interview with Sarah Palin, which aired last night on ABC:

“I’m ready,” Ms. Palin answered without any hesitation in an interview with ABC News on Thursday, saying she had felt no doubt about accepting Senator John McCain’s offer to run as his vice-presidential nominee.

“I answered him yes, because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can’t blink,” Ms. Palin told her interviewer, Charles Gibson. “You have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we’re on, reform of this country and victory in the war.”

It reminded me of something I'd read earlier about Palin -- about that trip to Dallas just before Trig was born, when the gathered Republican governors were asked who among them would not be willing to serve as McCain's running mate. Palin was among those who indicated her willingness to run for V.P. That happened as she was in the 8th month of a pregnancy, a state that would give many of us pause about committing in the near future to something so small as a volunteer role in a community organization.

The NYT story goes on to report that the Gibson interview did, however, reveal chinks in Palin's armor. I didn't see the interview, but she was apparently at times "visibly nervous."

Because most women sell themselves (ourselves!) short and learn the delicate art of self promotion late in life, if ever, this may be a way in which Palin should/would/can be a role model for us. Right now, it's her only characteristic I find myself wanting to emulate. Women can benefit from taking more career risks; doing so can push us to see what more we're capable of. Is it our lack of confidence, our failure to take risks that is partly responsible for that earnings gap I wrote of in my earlier post today?

At the same time, I'm reminded by what I read of last night's Palin interview that confidence should be at least somewhat commensurate with one's capacity to deliver.

Photo of Palin and Gibson by Donna Svennevik for ABC/Getty Images.

Male lawyers earn more than their female counterparts

That's what an August report from the U.S. Census Bureau showed for 2007, according to this story in the ABA Journal online. Not a big surprise, I must say. Here's a paragraph summing up the "apples to apples" comparison:
Even when particular jobs within the legal profession were examined, women lawyers continued to lag behind their male counterparts. Women lawyers made a median of $93,600, a salary that was 77.8 percent of male lawyers’ median salary of $120,400. Female paralegal and legal assistants earned a median of $42,600, which was 93.2 percent of the $45,700 median that men earned. Female judges, magistrates and other judicial workers earned a median of $69,500, which is 64.3 percent of the median of $108,100 earned by males.
It's interesting that gap is greatest for judges, at almost 36%! The percentage of male lawyers' median pay that women lawyers earn, 77.8%, is remarkably close to the male-female income comparison across all occupations. See my earlier post here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The pipeline problem in politics

No, this is not another post about Sarah Palin and Alaska's natural resources. It is about the dearth of women and minorities in high-profile positions in state government, which in turn results in the under-representation of these groups in Statehouses -- and ultimately on the national political scene. Read the editorial about this in today's New York Times.

Are women less interested in rainmaking, or do they just underestimate its importance?

Why is the ABA Women Rainmakers Committee having such a hard time filling up its October conference for women lawyers?

About once a week for several weeks now, I've thought about writing a blog post regarding this conference for women lawyers. That is, I've been prompted periodically to think about this upcoming gathering because of frequent email reminders from the Law Practice Management Section.

I'm finally blogging about it because I'm struck by the fact that it is apparently so under-subscribed. If that is the case, it illustrates what a King Hall alum was telling me recently -- that women law students and recent law grads too often underestimate the importance of rainmaking. That is, they discount the extent to which they -- as they become more senior and certainly if they are to be made partners -- must bring in their own clients.

Most of you reading this blog aren't under serious pressure yet to attract your own clients (and some of you never will be because of the sectors in which you work), but it's never too early to start thinking about the significance of networking . . .

ADDENDUM: an email from the ABA has clarified to me that there has been a robust response to this conference and that the repeated emails are simply to clarify that space is still available.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Absolutely fascinating: "The more Venus and Mars have equal rights and similar jobs, the more their personalities seem to diverge."

Read the NYT story here. Can it be that, in more advanced and developed societies, gender roles are more highly differentiated because personalities are more highly gendered?

If so, it would provide some additional support for the notion that the public-private divide, which, while criticized, dominates much feminist analysis, is a product of historical events. See some of my thoughts on the public-private divide here.

Monday, September 8, 2008

More on Palin as Mom, and Moms in the Palin Era

NPR ran a very balanced story on the renewed "Mommy Wars" today -- renewed, that is, in the wake of Palin's selection as McCain's running mate. Listen to it here. I especially liked the point that no one is asking Barak Obama about his ability to do a good job as President, even though his young daughters are now 7 and 10. One statistic that really stood out for me: Americans still believe, by a margin of 2 to 1, that women should not work outside the home when they have young children.

Today's New York Times ran this remarkably positive front-page story about Palin's most recent pregnancy, focusing somewhat on its relation to her responsibilities as governor. The story reports on the extraordinary secrecy regarding both the pregnancy itself and the fact that an amniocentesis revealed that the baby had Down syndrome. Except for two doctors offering different opinions on the medical wisdom of Palin traveling to Texas in her 8th month, all those interviewed for the story appeared to be friends, relatives, or associates of Palin's. The three female journalists who wrote it may have tried especially hard not to sound critical (and cynical?) in reporting such a sensitive story.

Women's Law and Public Policy Fellowship Program: Deadline October 31

The Women's Law and Public Policy Fellowship Program (WLPPFP) at Georgetown University Law Center is now accepting applications, as is another program at Georgetown, the Leadership and Advocacy for Women in Africa (LAWA).

Click here for more information.

The application deadline for WLPPFP, which is for lawyers from the United States, is Friday, October 31. The deadline for the LAWA Program, which is for lawyers from countries throughout Africa, is Friday, September 26.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Gloria Steinem on Sarah Palin

I saw the notice of this over at Feminist Law Profs; the Steinem op-ed appears in today's Los Angeles Times. The title is "Palin: Wrong Woman, Wrong Message" and the subhead quotes from Steinem's piece: "Sarah Palin shares nothing but a chromosome with Hillary Clinton. She is Phyllis Schlafly, only younger."

Steinem writes:
Here's the good news: Women have become so politically powerful that even the anti-feminist right wing -- the folks with a headlock on the Republican Party -- are trying to appease the gender gap with a first-ever female vice president.
After labeling John McCain the "real culprit," Steinem argues that he chose Palin to curry favor with "right-wing ideologues." She continues:
Palin's value to those patriarchs is clear: She opposes just about every issue that women support by a majority or plurality. She believes that creationism should be taught in public schools but disbelieves global warming; she opposes gun control but supports government control of women's wombs; she opposes stem cell research but approves "abstinence-only" programs, which increase unwanted births, sexually transmitted diseases and abortions . . .
The entire column is well worth a read.

Don't forget that Steinem will be at UC Davis, at the Mondavi Center, on January 16, 2009.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Judith Warner on Sarah Palin

You know I've been trying not to judge . . . I've been trying oh so hard, but I cannot resist sharing this paragraph from Judith Warner's latest post on Domestic Disturbances:
Why does this woman – who to some of us seems as fake as they can come, with her delicate infant son hauled out night after night under the klieg lights and her pregnant teenage daughter shamelessly instrumentalized for political purposes — deserve, to a unique extent among political women, to rank as so “real”?
Read the rest here.

The difference between Judith Warner and me is that I don't think Sarah Palin is a fake -- or that she seems particularly fake. For her, these decisions to have her children in the public eye are as genuine as they can possibly be. I just happen to be put off by them. But Warner's right. Palin and others like her don't deserve to be seen as uniquely real. What about the rest of us?

Among Warner's other excellent points:
  • Putting Palin forward as his running mate is a "thoroughgoing humiliation for America's women" and is disrespectful of them. I would certainly agree that it is disrespectful of a great many of them.
  • Palin seems "real" because she makes it clear that she is not intimidating and "makes it clear that she's subordinate to a great man."
  • The media condescension in response to Palin's speech, the damning with faint praise by marveling that she could speak and smile at the same time.

She's selling God, family, and the small-town, working/middle class dream, but are we buying?

I watched Sarah Palin's speech last night. I feel a little guilty about it since I didn't make time to watch any speeches at the Democratic convention last week, though I caught a few on NPR during my drive time. I made time to watch Palin last night because I wanted not only to hear what she had to say (I could have gotten the content later on a transcript), but because I wanted to have the entire Palin experience, if you will. I wanted to see her, observe her as a public speaker, and hear the partisan crowd's response. Like much of the rest of the country, apparently, her selection has gotten my attention. I'm intrigued.

I have to tell you, however, that I was not impressed with the content of what Palin said, nor was I particularly impressed with how she said it. She's a fine public speaker, but not a masterful one. Of course, my response to her speech may be primarily based on my disagreement with her on many issues -- beginning with the three E's: environment, energy policy, and the economy. Sure, the convention delegates were delighting in her recitation of standard Republican platitudes, but that's all the speech was -- that and grandstanding around her role as an "average hockey mom" and P.T.A. participant. Playing up her small-business credentials based on her sister and brother-in-law having just opened a service station seemed a bit contrived to me, but as I've already acknowledged, I'm a bit biased.

The network commentator said following her speech that it is traditional for the speaker's family to come onto stage at that time, and Palin's husband, five children, and soon-to-be son-in-law were soon there surrounding her. Even to my somewhat cynical eye, they were attractive and appealing -- never mind the irresistable, "ohhhhh, isn't that sweet" vignettes of 7-year-old Piper smoothing the hair of infant Trig, which peppered NBC's coverage of Palin's speech. (Speaking of the media, did you see the front page photo in today's national print edition of the New York Times, which showed McCain greeting Bristol Palin, her fiance, Levi Johnston, and Mom Sarah? The front page of today's Sacramento Bee showed the Palin brood on stage last night after the speech, with dad Todd gazing lovingly at his 4-month-old son. Neither photo is now available online for me to post here. The point of my comments, of course, is to ask whether Palin is being pitched to us primarily as a public servant, or primarily as a Mom. There were lots of other photos of Palin that both media outlets could have whacked on thier front pages).

But if general rhetoric about God, family, and the middle-class struggle is what Palin and her party are selling as good government, I'm not buying. Don't get me wrong. I love God and family, and I have a first-hand appreciation of working class struggles. I just support different solutions than Palin's regarding how to help the middle and working classes, regardless of whether they are in conventional families.

Palin seems like a decent person with many, many talents, strong personal convictions, and a lovely family, but that doesn't mean I want her to be Vice President. I acknowledge that everyday experiences such as raising children represent a valuable skill set, but it doesn't mean that I necessarily want an "average hockey mom" to be governing the country. An extraordinary hockey mom might do the trick for me, but only if her positions on a range of critical issues were closer to my own. I fully appreciate the Palin family's middle class existence (the governor of Alaska makes only $125K, and as mayor of Wasilla she earned about half of that), but Palin has drawn from her life experiences stances with which I strongly disagree. As one commentator said today, she stands for "I've got mine, now you get yours and get out of my way."

So where does this past week's Palinmania leave us? apparently it leaves a lot of "us" preoccupied with Palin as mother -- intrigued, charmed, inspired. I share some of those feelings. But my bottom line is that I strongly disagree with a great deal of what she and McCain want for this country. And those substantive issues -- not the visceral appeal of her charming family and her middle-class, small-town background -- will determine my vote.

Judging Sarah, Judging Moms

Since very soon after the news broke that McCain had chosen Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate, we got bits and bobs of information about her in relation to how she juggled work and family. I've tried not to be judgmental in my responses -- but I have no doubt that my thoughts are informed by my own work-life challenges.

When I heard she had an infant with Down syndrome, I thought "it would be difficult to have a job as responsible as hers and actually much time left to do the day-to-day grunt work associated with an infant, especially a special needs child."

Then I saw a comment -- apparently intended to be positive-- to the effect that, "she doesn't spend much time at the office/with the legislature." The implication seemed to be that she was therefore "above politics." My analysis was, "of course she doesn't spend a lot of time at the office. She's a woman with five kids. Every mother with a job in which she has sufficient control to her time to be out of the office takes it. One's paid work can often be done while the kids are at school or after they're asleep. It's not necessarily a reflection on her attitude toward her role as governor or politics or the legislature."

One of the first stories about Palin after her selection closed with the line, "Three days after giving birth, Ms. Palin was back at work." Well, I thought, she is governor after all. With a job featuring so much flexibility, that's not a big deal. I was "back at work" answering email within three days of giving birth.

Next, in a story about the Palins' finances, a journalist noted that Mr. Palin hasn't worked as much on Alaska's north slope since his wife became governor. "He's been in charge of child care," the story said. Quite appropriate, I thought. There's a lot to do with so many kids. I'm glad to know he's adapted his work life to support hers.

Now, in the wake of Monday's disclosure that Palin's 17-year-old daughter is pregnant, the mother judges are out in full force. A story in the NYT a few days ago featured a number of telling quotes -- quotes that suggest mothers are "damned if they do, damned if they don't" with regard to how they juggle work and family. The story was headlined, "In Palin, a New Twist in the Debate on Mothers," and it was co-authored by two of my favorite NYT journalists, Jodi Kantor and Rachel Swarns. (If I recall correctly, the former recently gave birth to twins). Here is an excerpt:

It’s the Mommy Wars: Special Campaign Edition. But this time the battle lines are drawn inside out, with social conservatives, usually staunch advocates for stay-at-home motherhood, mostly defending her, while some others, including plenty of working mothers, worry that she is taking on too much.

You really must read Kantor and Swarns' entire story. There's this incredibly unhelpful quote from Jane Swift, former acting governor of Massachusetts who gave birth to twins when in that office: “I know now that it was virtually impossible for me to take advice and make decisions when I was responding emotionally as a mother, not thinking rationally as a public official.” Plus there's a zinger from Phyllis Schlafly, who helped defeat the E.R.A. amendment back in the 1970s, implying that mothers of just one or two kids are being too judgmental of Palin because they can't imagine a brood of 5.

Perhaps how Palin fares, as candidate and/or ultimately as vice president, might have some impact on attitudes toward moms who work outside the home. But I really wish for now we could get back to the issues and away from the focus on "Palin as Mom." More on the issues (and the media handling of Palin) in my next post . . .

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hurricane Palin

While I've been struggling to sort through my thoughts on the "Sarah as Mom" phenom and get my next post up, Sally Schwettmann sent along this link from slate.com. You don't have to get far into to realize it's from the "media criticism" corner.

Here's an excerpt from the piece by Jack Shafter:
Journalistic mayhem is a fine description for the last couple of days of Sarah Palin coverage. Starved to the point of collapse from the restricted-calorie diet served at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, the press needed a news feast to restore its powers. With the Republicans' convention lite staring them in the face, the ravenous press corps decided to switch the menu from St. Paul to New Orleans. The evening news anchors—NBC, CBS, ABC—were all defecting to the Gulf Coast over the weekend. But then the press scented the lard-fried Snickers bar that was Palin. Now that Hurricane Gustav has fizzled, there is only one disaster story to cover, and she's it.
Shafter notes, for example, the media's coverage of Bristol Palin's pregnancy, while linking it to the "eagerness with which politicians deploy their children as campaign props." On that note, may I say how unimpressed I was to see young Levi's photo (yes, the one you've surely all seen by now, in the hockey uniform) both in the New York Times today and on the Today Show. Give the kids a break -- which means they shouldn't be compelled to play this convention game. Why'd we have to fly this kid down from Alaska, for heaven's sake? It's looking like the Republicans using "family values" any way they can.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Women at work

Yes, former fem legal theory students, that us. OK, well, it is most of us; a few of you are men at work, but you should nevertheless read this!

Maybe by now you've seen this super-popular item in the New York Times. I first noticed it on Saturday, in the "Jobs" section in a series called "Preoccupations." It's written by 26-year-old Hannah Seligman, and the title is "Girl Power at School, Not at the Office."

I'll excerpt the closing quote first. It's from Myra Smart, a retired senior faculty member of the Harvard School of Business, who studies female entrepreneurs: "“By and large women believe that the workplace is a meritocracy, and it isn’t.”

To that I say, "duh." But I don't mean to imply that I've known this all along. I've spent the last decade learning it. Yes, it has taken me into my 40s! It took me that long because I lucked out in most of my jobs until then. By that I mean that in prior jobs, what looked like my succeeding in a meritocracy was probably my good luck, and the fact I was seen with extra value because I didn't have a family to distract me. I was able to look the part of the ideal worker -- and, in fact, to be one. I could work late every night and be put on an airplane at a moment' s notice.

But I've digressed. Let me get back to the gist of Ms. Seligson's piece. She characterizes the college classroom as egalitarian, and she contrasts how she and her female peers were empowered in college, "easily ascend[ing] to school leadership positions and prestigious internships," with their workplace experiences a short time later. Seligson writes of the "realization that the knowledge and skills acquired in school don’t always translate at the office," noting that gender dynamics are an aspect of the challenge.

I don't know if law school leaves women students unprepared for the realities of the work world in the way that Seligson suggests college does. Female graduates who worked before entering law school may already be switched on to some of the differences Seligson highlights. Of course, there is also plenty of empirical evidence to suggest that the law school classroom is not egalitarian. (See my article here, collecting sources). This may mean that women students leave law school with less confidence than when they entered.

Whatever state female law grads are in when they enter the work world, Seligson offers some pretty good advice, I think. She suggests subtle cultivation of mentors and networking; solicitation of feedback; self-promotion; risk taking; and asking for raises -- among other strategies.

Actually, I don't think the solutions are as easy and straight-forward as Seligson suggests-- especially not the asking for a raise part. What Seligson doesn't mention is that asking for more money not only doesn't always work, it can be used to portray us prima donnas, overly-ambitious, etc. Oh the stories I could tell . . .

Seligson also addresses the issue of women undermining women in the workplace. I know it happens, but I'm happy to say it has not happened to me as much as "lore" and Ms. Seligson's story suggests. In short, my advice is not to be preoccupied by the possibility.

In any event, Seligson gives us a lot of good food for thought. I especially want to emphasize the mentoring point and the networking point. I met a King Hall alum recently (at a kids' birthday party! It's fun to run into them in unexpected places) who was very focused on these in relation to each other. She is a partner in a smallish Sacramento law firm, and she said we need to mentor students to understand the need for networking and how to do it.

Of course, one way for us to get and stay networked is through this blog. So come on, alums . . . chime in. Tell your own work stories -- under cover of a pseudonym if necessary!