Friday, November 28, 2008

The gift of health, the gift of reproductive control

Have you heard that Planned Parenthood of Indiana is offering gift certificates for health care, including contraception? The Associated Press explains in this story:

The group, a network of 35 clinics, decided to offer the vouchers because so many people are uninsured or are putting off health care because of prohibitive costs, said Betty Cockrum, its president. About 800,000 Indiana residents do not have health insurance, Ms. Cockrum said.

Planned Parenthood’s checkups, which include Pap tests and breast exams, typically cost $58. The vouchers can be used for those exams, medication, birth control and other services.
I think it sounds like a great idea, but opponents argue that this is a mockery of the holiday season. Hmm. I just don't see how helping someone afford a Pap test and a breast exam could possibly be a bad gift, let alone inconsistent with sentiments of the season.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mothers sacrifice. What's new? But who should benefit?

The headline, "To Buy Children's Gifts, Mothers Do Without," caught my eye this morning. I thought it might tell of mothers scrimping on food budgets, maybe on gasoline or other transportation costs, or perhaps on some small indulgence for themselves --all to be sure their kids each had a present or two to open on Christmas morning. Instead, the story Stephanie Rosenbloom tells in today's NYT is really one of largess. Here are the first few paragraphs:

Come Christmas, McKenna Hunt, a gregarious little girl from Safety Harbor, Fla., will receive the play kitchen and the Elmo doll she wants. But her mother, Kristen Hunt, will go without the designer jeans she covets this season.

* * *

“I want her to be able to look back,” Ms. Hunt declared, “and say, ‘Even though they were tough times, my mom was still able to give me stuff.’ ”

The real point of Rosenbloom's story seems to be that sales of women's apparel have fallen dramatically in recent months, so I felt a bit hood-winked by the headline. The accompanying photo by Charity Beck is more consistent with the story's message of largess for the younger generation of middle-class Americans. The photo seems dissonant with the headline, however, and it makes me think that little McKenna could probably make do with a little less. I am sympathetic to the idea that Christmas is for kids, but what is McKenna learning here?

I guess I am on a bit of soap box this morning, but this seems like excessive consumerism -- even if mom isn't getting her designer jeans. Weighing on my heart and mind are the photo (above) and story about the line of folks waiting for a Thanksgiving care package at the Sacramento Food Bank and news of the record turnout at Loaves and Fishes Thanksgiving Dinner last night here in Sacramento. Read just one story here. All of us who have shelter, warm clothes on our backs, and a secure food supply should be making sacrifices this season, but not so we can instill a me-first mentality in our children. We should do it so others can eat.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Advice for Michelle Obama

Apparently it is pouring in from around the world, including some very public advice from Cherie Blair, who proffered it in her regular column for The Times (London). Like French President Nicolas Sarkozy's wife, Carla Bruni, Blair continued to work while her husband was the U.K. Prime Minister. Blair wrote in her regular column for The Times of London:

You have to learn to take the back seat, not just in public, but in private . . . When your spouse is late to put the kids to bed, or for dinner, or your plans for the weekend are turned upside down again, you simply have to accept that he had something more important to do.

Blair went on to note the irony that in this age of purported equality those married to political leaders must set aside their ambitions and be seen but not heard. Blair observes that, unlike herself, Michelle Obama will not have that option of continuing to work.

Rachel Swarns' story in today's New York Times reminds us that Hillary Rodham Clinton is the only first lady prior to Michelle Obama to have had an active career until shortly before her husband became President. I have recently recalled here responses to Hillary's becoming first lady in 1992. The only other first lady even to have an advanced degree was Laura Bush, and that degree was in the rather lower profile subject of library science. Ms. Clinton and Ms. Obama, of course, are lawyers.

Also of great interest in Swarns' story is the observation that Michelle Obama became more popular among the electorate once she quit work during her husband's campaign and fully embraced the role of "mom-in-chief."

Leslie Morgan Steiner, editor of “Mommy Wars,” an anthology of essays (Random House, 2006), argued on the NPR program “Tell Me More” that Mrs. Obama had been “put in a box” and was only celebrated in the news media after she decided “to put her family first.”

In the online magazine Salon, Rebecca Traister bemoaned what she described as the “momification of Michelle Obama,” criticizing the news media’s focus on Mrs. Obama’s search for schools for her two young daughters, her fashion sense and her pledge that her No. 1 job is “to be Mom.”

Traister bemoans the lack of curiosity about Michelle as a professional, successful, independent woman who is facing some major changes in how she spends her days. Certainly, leaving work that one enjoys is a big adjustment, and Ms. Obama's last job was a $300K/year post as a Vice President at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Nevertheless, as one commentator points out, unlike most women who leave work to be a trailing spouse, Ms. Obama's career won't suffer long-term consequences. Once her husband is no longer President, her time spent in the White House will be viewed as very valuable, and she will have her pick of jobs, among them partnership at the law firm of her choice.

So, fem legal theory alums, do you have any advice for Michelle?

Btw, as of today, I'm giving Michelle Obama her own label on the blog.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

What women are saying about Hillary's new role

Read Jodi Kantor's story in the New York Times here. So many parts of this story resonated with me, particularly the part where Kantor suggests that the decision HRC faced --U.S. Senator from New York vs. Secretary of State--resonated on some level with many women. One question on so many of our minds, as Kantor expressed it, was "ultimately, how well will her male boss treat her?" I especially like this bit of Kantor's story, which put it all in historical perspective:

Their case for Mrs. Clinton’s decision as feminist triumph has gone something like this: Ten years ago, she was still a first lady whose hairstyles were the subject of late-night jokes; now she will be the world’s top diplomat. She may still be in a more powerful man’s shadow, but being married to a president and working for one are worlds apart. And Mrs. Clinton is such an esteemed figure, no one will see her as a mere emissary.
I sure hope Kantor is right about the "esteemed figure" part. Hillary has earned at least that.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Required reading about Hillary . . . yes, she's back

Hillary Rodham Clinton (photo vintage 1992) is very much back in the news in recent days, mostly in relation to whether she will become the next Secretary of State. Read Gail Collins' column here, which she closes with this list of reasons why Hillary should get the job. Those reasons include the fact that Hillary might do a great job and the rather more whimsical comment that she has enough pantsuits to keep her in the Middle East for extended peace negotiations. Others include the benefit of not letting the Vice President run our foreign policy, as Dick Cheney has and that Obama could live out his team-of-rivals fantasy without naming Sarah Palin to his cabinet.

A story by Helene Cooper in today's NYT front page tells us that HRC has supporters among foreign advisers. Lots of people seem to see her would-be appointment as a win-win.

The revival of interest in Hillary and her political fortunes may be what prompted the NYT to revive this column by Anna Quindlen, who might be considered Judith Warner's predecessor. Quindlen's column was written on the occasion of Bill Clinton's election to the U.S. Presidency in 1992, and in it, Quindlen queries: "Now that we have a First Woman as educated, intelligent, superachieving and policy-savvy as her husband, what do we do with her?" In addition to sharing several reader responses, Quindlen put it all in perspective by suggesting that our responses are not Hillary as much as they are about us:

It has been about how we feel about smart women, professional women, new women. It's been about nurturing moms and working moms and what we do for love, including keeping our mouths shut. We want her to make the world safe, not only for education reform and preschool programs, but for opinionated women who want to be taken seriously.

Quindlen goes on to note that two of the terms then most associated with HRC are "hard-edged" and "headbands." If you don't get the "headbands" reference, well you'll have to do a little research for yourself; I remember all too well. As for being "hard-edged," wasn't that one of the characteristics (or characterizations?) that continued to haunt HRC as she sought the Democratic nomination for '08?

Perhaps what we saw this year with Hillary's candidacy was an example of the old adage, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Perhaps too little changed in our society between when Hillary entered the White House as first lady and when she sought to re-enter as President.

On the other hand, what did change was many women's respect for Hillary -- and it wasn't necessarily a change for the better. Between 1992 and 2008, many third-wave feminists and post-feminist women became voters. When Hillary ran for President, well, I'm afraid they just didn't get it. They didn't "get" her. They didn't appreciate her. While discussing Hillary's (near) teary moment after her defeat in the Iowa caucuses, just before the New Hampshire vote this past winter, a student in my feminist legal theory class opined that Hillary was "faking it." Seemed a mighty uncharitable presumption from a feminist, albeit a third-wave one.

In any event, I encourage you to read Quindlen's entire November 8, 1992 column here. In fact, Quindlen wrote a series of columns about Hillary in 1994. They appeared under the heading "Public and Private." You can read them here, here, and here. I love Gail Collins and Judith Warner, but I miss Anna Quindlen. A former student recently declared to me -- affectionately, I think -- "oh, Professor Pruitt, you're so second-wave." Yep, I guess I am.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dick Cavett on Palin

I can't resist directing you to Dick Cavett's column, The Wild Wordsmith from Wasilla. It's about more than Sarah Palin's way with words. It's about gender, and which gender got the best of which in the McCain-Palin pairing. He observes that Palin is still getting a great deal of media exposure, that she is everywhere on television right now, and queries why:

I suppose it will be recorded as among political history’s ironies that Palin was brought in to help John McCain. I can’t blame feminists who might draw amusement from the fact that a woman managed to both cripple the male she was supposed to help while gleaning an almost Elvis-sized following for herself. Mac loses, Sarah wins big-time was the gist of headlines.

Cavett concludes that McCain "aimed low and missed." Interesting that Cavett assumes Palin got the better of things. He may be right. On the other hand, an astute contemporary of mine was opining this week that Palin had been used by the good ole' boys and she didn't even realize it yet. Hmmmm. I'm not sure there is a clear answer on who got the better deal when McCain joined forces with Palin. Maybe the answer to that depends on whether or not you're a Palin devotee.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hillary, Sarah, and the '08 Presidential Race

NPR's "Day to Day" program did a segment today on Gender and the '08 race. Commentators discussed the benefit of having two very different women breaking through the glass ceiling. You can listen to the segment here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Friday, November 7, 2008

Women as "canaries in the coal mines" that are large law firms

This story from today's ABA Journal online suggests that an exodus of women from Heller, Ehrman foretold the firm's collapse. Here's the lede from Deborah Weiss's story:

A former Heller Ehrman partner who spearheaded a project to retain women lawyers has been doing some thinking about why law firms dissolve.

Patricia Gillette, an employment lawyer, leaped to Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe last October for what she describes as “cultural reasons.” At Heller, she founded the Opt-In Project with another lawyer in an effort to find out how to retain women lawyers. What she learned, she tells the ABA Journal, was that the problems spurring women lawyers to leave law firms were also contributing to firm implosions.

“Women were the canaries in the coal mine,” says Gillette. “What we found is that the issues that were causing women to leave law firms have become the issues that are causing young lawyers to leave large law firms, whether men or women.”

The project identified several problems with the management structure at law firms that are forcing out young lawyers unwilling to wait for the remote partnership prize, contributing to unhappiness among Baby Boomer lawyers seeking new practice options, and eroding the cohesiveness that had held firms together.

While it's never good to be the canary in the coalmine if you're the one that croaks, what is heartening about this story is that women were smart enough to get out -- and they became trendsetters on that basis.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Anti-choice initiatives lose in three states, including California

Here's an excerpt from the New York Times story regarding the South Dakota and Colorado initiatives, which both failed.

A first-of-its-kind measure in Colorado, which was defeated soundly, would have defined life as beginning at conception.

* * *

The South Dakota measure would have banned abortions except in cases of rape, incest and serious health threat to the mother.

* * *

''The lesson here is that Americans, in states across the country, clearly support women's ability to access abortion care without government interference,'' said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation.

I hope I am not speaking too soon on Prop. 4 in California. The Sacramento Bee is currently reporting 52.6% "no" and 47.4% "yes" on a law that would have required parental notification of a minor's abortion and a waiting period.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Here's to Kay Hagan and Jeanne Shaheen

A net gain of at least one woman in the U.S. Senate, as of this hour.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Palin and the public-private divide

According to an interview last month with an Alaska journalist, Sarah Palin sees no distinction between the public and the private. That may explain, in some small way, why she charged the state when her children traveled with her, even to events to which they were not invited and had no clear public function or purpose. Here's an excerpt from the AP story, which was in the Sacramento Bee about 10 days ago.

The charges included costs for hotel and commercial flights for three daughters to join Palin to watch their father in a snowmobile race, and a trip to New York, where the governor attended a five-hour conference and stayed with 17-year-old Bristol for five days and four nights in a luxury hotel.

In all, Palin has charged the state $21,012 for her three daughters' 64 one-way and 12 round-trip commercial flights since she took office in December 2006. In some other cases, she has charged the state for hotel rooms for the girls.

Alaska law does not specifically address expenses for a governor's children. The law allows for payment of expenses for anyone conducting official state business.

As governor, Palin justified having the state pay for the travel of her daughters - Bristol, 17; Willow, 14; and Piper, 7 - by noting on travel forms that the girls had been invited to attend or participate in events on the governor's schedule.

But some organizers of these events said they were surprised when the Palin children showed up uninvited, or said they agreed to a request by the governor to allow the children to attend.

Several other organizers said the children merely accompanied their mother and did not participate. The trips enabled Palin, whose main state office is in the capital of Juneau, to spend more time with her children.

"She said any event she can take her kids to is an event she tries to attend," said Jennifer McCarthy, who helped organize the June 2007 Family Day Celebration picnic in Ketchikan that Piper attended with her parents.

State Finance Director Kim Garnero told The Associated Press she has not reviewed the Palins' travel expense forms, so she could not say whether the daughters' travel with their mother would meet the definition of official business.

This practice sounds a bit dodgy to me, but it does raise an issue that has crossed my mind before. For a workplace to be family-friendly, how far should it go to make travel possible -- indeed, do-able -- for employees who have children? Whether or not Palin acted properly in billing the state of Alaska for her children's travel, what accommodations and perqs should be extended to employees' children in order to keep working parents in the work place and on track in their careers? Does it make a difference if the employer is in the private sector or the public? a civil servant, the governor, or (gasp!) the Vice President?

"Elite Women Getting Older, and Better"

That NYT headline caught my eye this morning, making me momentarily hopeful. But, upon reading the accompanying story, I see the news appears to apply only to marathon runners. Sigh.

Here is an excerpt from Juliet Macur's story:
Their average age is about 33, one of the oldest groups of elite women, if not the oldest, in the history of the race, organizers said. Two-thirds are 30 or older, including the favorites Paula Radcliffe, 34, and Gete Wami, 33. Nearly half are 35 and older.
The story goes on to note that female runners like these earn six-figure fees from participating in these high profile marathons. Five of the women running in the NY Marathon this year have accumulated at least $1 million in prize money during their careers. That's impressive, but it has me wondering how much (more) the men are making.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Proposition K would legalize prostitution in San Francisco

I didn't know about Proposition K, the ballot measure that would decriminalize prostitution in San Francisco, until I read this story in the New York Times today. On both sides of this issue are feminists of different stripes. Indeed, this the de-criminalization of prostitution has been the topic of quite a few feminist legal theory papers over the years, and they've taught me a lot.

In short, those in favor of the proposition say it would empower prostitutes to unionize and will increase their safety by making it easier for them to call on law enforcement for assistance when they are threatened. One long-time advocate for prostitutes who was herself a prostitute for 35 years, Carol Leigh a/k/a Scarlot Harlot (she spoke at UC Davis this spring), had this to say:
Basically, if you feel that you’re a criminal, it can be used against you * * * It’s a really serious situation, and ending this criminalization is the only solution I see to protect these other women working now.
Another self-described "independent, in-call escort," age 22, said she "enjoyed her work" and thought Proposition K would empower prostitutes to achieve better pay and to work more safely.

The NYT gives the impression that everyone else is against Prop K, including big guns like Mayor Gavin Newsome and city D.A. Kamala D. Harris. Harris challenges the characterization of prostitution is not a victimless crime. Harris suggests, of course, that the prostitutes are among the victims, but she does not address how continuing criminalization of prostitution helps them.

If you want to read more, the Huffington Post covered the issue here.