Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Women pay more than men for health insurance

Read Robert Pear's story in the New York Times here. An excerpt follows:
Striking new evidence has emerged of a widespread gap in the cost of health insurance, as women pay much more than men of the same age for individual insurance policies providing identical coverage, according to new data from insurance companies and online brokers.

Some insurance executives expressed surprise at the size and prevalence of the disparities, which can make a woman’s insurance cost hundreds of dollars a year more than a man’s. Women’s advocacy groups have raised concerns about the differences, and members of Congress have begun to question the justification for them.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Judith Warner gives Palin her due, but not as a post-feminist ideal

Among other flattering things that Judith Warner says about Palin in her column today, Warner calls Palin "no ordinary woman." Indeed, that is the column's title. Warner quotes former congresswoman Bella Abzug who three decades ago said: “Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.” Warner translates this as "women will truly have arrived when the most mediocre among us will be able to do just as well as the most mediocre of men." By this measure, Warner suggests, the Republican choice of Sarah Palin for V.P. was a more momentous event than Hillary Rodham Clinton's serious bid to be the Democratic nominee.

Here is a an excerpt that touches on a couple of gender issues:

Palin is a woman who has risen to national prominence without, apparently, even remotely being twice as good as her male competitors. * * * She is a woman who is able to not only get by but also be quickly promoted on the kinds of attributes that were once the exclusive province of unremarkable white men: rapport, the right looks or connections, an easy sort of familiarity.
Warner quotes Donny Deutsch who summed up the Palin phenomenon as “women want to be her, men want to mate with her." Deutsch labels her a "new creation" and suggests that she represents what the feminist movement hasn't understood.

Warner attributes Palin's breakthrough--that is, her success--to the fact that she threatens no one. Her closing comments are damning with faint praise, saying that even Palin's better-than-average qualities don't qualify her to be V.P.

I'm hoping Warner is right. Not only does Palin not have the qualifications to be V.P., I'm convinced that her ascension to that office would be retrograde for women in so many ways.

And now Dowd comparing Palin to Eliza Doolittle

Of course we knew Maureen Dowd would weigh in on the latest Palin controversy. Here is her column, "A Makeover with an Ugly Gloss." Dowd's main point is Palin's hypocrisy, which is at least somewhat fair given how Palin has played up her midde-class, hockey-mom, "I'm like you" credentials. Here's an excerpt from Dowd's column:

McCain advisers have been scathing about the “sexism” of critics who dismiss Sarah Palin as Caribou Barbie.

How odd then, to learn that McCain advisers have been treating their own vice presidential candidate like Valentino Barbie, dressing her up in fancy clothes and endlessly playing with her hair.
* * *

The Republicans’ attempt to make the case that Barack Obama is hoity-toity and they’re hoi polloi has fallen under the sheer weight of the stunning numbers.

Dowd goes on to provide in extraordinary detail information about the McCains' wealth and about how much money in clothing and jewelry Cindy McCain was wearing at the Republican National Convention -- something in the neighborhood of $300K.

On the other hand, as I suggested a few days ago here, I'm not sure that it's all so clear-cut. As illustrated by Hillary Clinton, as well as Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain, the attention to the appearances of these women who are in the political spotlight seems to me almost unbearable. What the RNC did--with Palin's complicity, of course--reflects a harsh reality for women, which was the topic of an earlier post. As women age -- and Palin is all of 44!-- they are even more likely to be discriminated against if they don't continue to look young. In short, several factors would have made it difficult for Palin to stand up to the RNC and ask for Wal-Mart clothes and her old Wasilla hairdresser on the campaign trail-- assuming, of course, that's what she really wanted.

But there is yet another angle on Palin's makeover. As a downhome kind of gal with an accent myself, I was fascinated by this tidbit from Dowd's column. The McCain campaign hired a former actress to be Palin's voice coach for the convention. I have written here about the folksy way in which Palin expresses herself, arguing that it should not be held against her. But apparently even the RNC was holding it against her! No wonder Palin has recently been breaking free of her handlers, as covered here. She may be enjoying the new duds, hair and make-up, but all of that handling (and molding and shaping) must be very confining and, ultimately, annoying -- especially for a self-styled maverick like Palin.

Friday, October 24, 2008

More on Sarah's appearance . . . then and now

A couple of stories in today's NYT are all about Sarah. The 2d most emailed story right now features the headline, "Top Salary in McCain Camp? Palin's Makeup Stylist." Another story is "Little-Noticed College Student to Star Politician." It features the photo right, of Palin in the Miss Alaska contest in 1984.

In one sense, Palin has come a long way. In another, she clearly has not. With a $150K wardrobe and a $11K/week make-up stylist, she still seems to be pretty focused on appearance.

In fairness, society puts a lot of pressure on young women to attend to their physical appearance, and I find it credible that Palin was involved in pageants to raise scholarship money to help fund her education. But who is driving the current attention to Palin's appearance, Palin or the media? And what was Hillary Clinton's wardrobe budget? Certainly we saw quite a bit of attention directed to HRC's hair and clothing. We've also seen quite a bit of attention to what Michelle Obama wears, and to Cindy McCain's costly duds. What price might a female politician pay for not attending to these matters?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sarah's new wardrobe is all the buzz today, but what I want to know is who's watching the kids

The media is all over the cost and details of Sarah Palin's $150K wardrobe makeover today (see this), but what I have not seen covered is what the RNC is paying to educate and mind Sarah Palin's children as she campaigns across the country.

I am assuming there must be several full-time nannies to watch the younger children, who appear to be traveling with their mother. So, what's the scoop? Palin presumably is not changing most of Trig's diapers these days, nor checking Piper's and Willow's homework? Or maybe she is? And yes, I would ask the same question of a male candidate with an infant or with children who were traveling with him on the campaign trail.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Drafting women into the military?

See the bloggingheads video here.

Men love Palin!?!

Read this New York Times story about how a majority of those showing up at Palin rallies are men. According to Mark Leibovich's story, dateline Bangor, Maine, the male Palin groupies are known as Sarah Dudes. Here's an excerpt:
“You rock me out, Sarah,” yelled one man, wearing a red-checked hunting jacket as Ms. Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate, strode into an airplane hangar here on Thursday. He held a homemade “Dudes for Sarah” sign and wore a National Rifle Association hat. Kenny Loggins’s “Danger Zone” blared over the loudspeakers, and the man even danced a little — yes, a guy in an N.R.A. hat dancing in a hangar, kind of a Sarah Palin rally thing.

I wonder what the attraction is.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ending impunity for rapists in the Congo

Read Jeffrey Gettleman's story in the New York Times about how international organizations are making a difference in the Congo, which United Nations officials have said has the worst sexual violence problem in the world. The story highlights the role of women's courage in speaking out about what has happened to them. Here's an excerpt:

Because of stepped-up efforts in the past nine months by international organizations and the Congolese government, rapists are no longer able to count on a culture of impunity. Of course, countless men still get away with assaulting women. But more and more are getting caught, prosecuted and put behind bars.

The full story is here.

More on (un)equal pay, this time among lawyers

A new study indicating that women lawyers earn less than men lawyers, and that women lawyer who are mothers earn even less, is being publicized on The link is here, and the abstract follows:
Using a dataset of survey responses from University of Michigan Law School graduates from the classes of 1970 through 1996, I find that fathers tend to receive higher salaries than non-fathers (a "daddy bonus"). In addition, mothers earn less than non-mothers (a "mommy penalty"). There is also some statistical support for the inference that there is a penalty associated purely with gender (women earning less than men, independent of parenthood), another result that is unique to the literature.

Analyzing full- or part-time status as well as work hours also suggests a key difference between women and men. Those who take part-time status are almost entirely women who take on child-rearing duties, and they reduce their work hours by an average of approximately thirty percent. These statistical results are, however, significantly less reliable because of the very small numbers of respondents (male or female) who work less than full time.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Closing the gap for equal pay"

I'm on vacation in Denver, and that is the Denver Post headline that caught my eye this morning. Read the full story here, and note the tips that are offered to women who wish to avoid being on the short end of the salary stick. (Graphic by The Denver Post, also showing the impact of earner's parental status).

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Don't miss Nicholas Kristof's column: "Can this be Pro-Life?"

It is one of the most emailed stories today in the New York Times, which I hope is a sign that people care about the issues of women's health and reproductive rights.

Kristof comments on the Bush administration's policy of de-funding programs that supply condoms, oral contraceptives, and IUDs in the developing world. Here are some excerpts that quote folks commenting on what Kristof calls "reproductive-health madness":
"The irony and hypocrisy of it is that this is a bone to the self-described ‘pro-life’ movement, but it will result in deaths to women who just want to space their births,” said Dana Hovig, the chief executive of Marie Stopes International. The organization estimates that the result will be at least 157,000 additional unwanted pregnancies per year, leading to 62,000 additional abortions and 660 women dying in childbirth.
* * *

“This nearsighted maneuver will have direct and dire consequences,” a group of prominent public health experts in America declared in an open letter, adding that the action “will translate almost immediately into increased maternal death and disability.”

Another realm in which women are patronized -- or is it privileged?

Would you believe restaurants? Of course you would.

But is it a good thing or a bad thing that most restaurants follow a policy of taking women's orders first, serving their food before that of their male companions?

Read this New York Times story on the topic, and let me know what you think.

Here's an excerpt:
Although the goal in many public places and in much of public life is to treat men and women equally, most upscale restaurants haven’t reached that point.

Then again they haven’t really tried all that hard. They’ve learned that ignoring gender is risky, and often foolish, because men and women approach and respond to restaurants in different ways, looking for different things.

A broad generalization? Absolutely. It’s also nowhere near as true as it once was.

Certain musty rites — chivalrous from one perspective, chauvinistic from another — have faded or disappeared. It’s a rare restaurant that gives menus without prices to women dining with men. And most restaurants no longer steer the “ladies” toward the banquette, assuming they want to face out toward the room.

But most restaurateurs concede that women disproportionately end up there, whether by request or reflex.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Challenging gender roles in a corner of Afghanistan

Read this inspiring story in today's NYT. Here is the lede from Carlotta Gall's story:
Far away from the Taliban insurgency, in this most peaceful corner of Afghanistan, a quiet revolution is gaining pace.

Women are driving cars — a rarity in Afghanistan — working in public offices and police stations, and sitting on local councils. There is even a female governor, the first and only one in Afghanistan.

In many ways this province, Bamian, is unique. A half-dozen years of relative peace in this part of the country since the fall of the Taliban and a lessening of lawlessness and disorder have allowed women to push the boundaries here.

Most of the people in Bamian are ethnic Hazaras, Shiite Muslims who are in any case more open than most Afghans to the idea of women working outside the home.

But the changes in women’s lives here are also an enormous step for Afghanistan as a whole. And they may point the way to broader possibilities for women, eventually, if peace can be secured in this very conservative Muslim society, which has been dominated by militia commanders and warlords during the last 30 years of war.

In a country with low rankings on many indicators of social progress, women and girls are the most disadvantaged.

More than 80 percent of Afghan women are illiterate. Women’s life expectancy is only 45 years, lower than that of men, mostly because of the very high rates of death during pregnancy. Forced marriage and under-age marriage are common for girls, and only 13 percent of girls complete primary school, compared with 32 percent of boys.

The cult of war left women particularly vulnerable. For years now they have been the victims of abduction and rape. Hundreds of thousands were left war widows, mired in desperate poverty. Particularly in the last years of Taliban rule, even widows, who had no one to provide for them, were not allowed to work or leave the home unaccompanied by a male relative.

Photos by Moises Saman for the New York Times. The woman in the small photo, a civic leader in her region, is only 48 years old. The younger woman is Bamian's first female police officer.

Maureen Dowd, on the other hand . . .

tends to be a little too "catty" for me. Here is her "most emailed" column of the day. Why do I find it off-putting, when Gail Collins is not? They are both women commenting on a woman. Perhaps Collins is less personal, somehow. What is it about Dowd that I find so problematic, while clearly so many NYT readers hang on her every word? Does it have something to do with gender?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The most sensible commentary I've read so far about Palin's debate performance

I'm on vacation and not taking in as much news as usual in recent days. I did make it a priority, however, to watch the debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin on Thursday night. Like so many others in our nation, I wanted to see for myself how she performed.

My own sense is that she probably didn't change many minds. She wasn't the great embarrassment that some had expected, but I definitely thought Biden got the better of the contest. I didn't find Palin's folksiness very winsome -- at least not for or from a Vice Presidential candidate (and as those who know me wold surely agree, I'm pretty darn folksy myself). I didn't think her sentences parsed very well, let alone her paragraphs. She avoided most of the questions. Plus, of course, I disagree with her on most (possibly all?) substantive issues!

So, I've been a bit surprised that the commentators I've read in the wake of the debate, mostly in the New York Times, have been as positive as they have been about Palin's performance. Of course, a lot of the commentary -- such as here and here -- has to some extent damned with faint praise, noting the very low expectations we all had following Palin's interviews with Gibson and Couric. Then I read Gail Collins' column today. Like her male counterparts on the op-ed page, she damns with faint praise, tongue firmly in cheek with lines such as, "Palin did indeed answer each question with poise and self-confidence, reeling off a bunch of talking points that were sometimes totally unrelated to the matter at hand."

But I also liked Collins' closing observations about Palin's strategy as a politician, how she benefits from the women's movement, and what the debate meant, in some ways, for women:

Palin is, in many ways, a genuine heir to the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s, which tried to make sure that future generations of American women would grow up feeling they had every right to compete with men for all the best rewards and adventures the world had to offer. She never seems to have had a single doubt that she could accomplish whatever she set her mind to. When she got involved in politics, she used the time-honored male route of cultivating powerful mentors, then pushing them out of the way at the first possible opportunity. When she was governor, she did what very few female politicians do, and ignored all the subsidiary issues in order to put all her bets on one big policy payoff in the form of a new state energy policy.

Then, somehow, she concluded that her success in clawing her way to the top of Alaska’s modest political heap meant she was capable of running the United States.

This entire election season has been a long-running saga about the rise of women in American politics. On Thursday, it all went sour. The people boosting Palin’s triumph were not celebrating because she demonstrated that she is qualified to be president if something ever happened to John McCain. They were cheering her success in covering up her lack of knowledge about the things she would have to deal with if she wound up running the country.

Making partner as a part-timer

The ABA Journal, picking up a story from the National Law Journal, reports that more firms are specifying that part-time associates can make partner, and they are indicating some specifics on how to do so. A related story in the NLJ notes that part-time lawyer dads are still "rare birds."