Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Obamas as role models for work-life balance

The headline for today's New York Times "Room for Debate" feature is "Michelle Obama's Balancing Act." The signing this week of the Lilly Ledbetter Act is the ostensible reason for initiating this dialogue, which includes the comments of four experts on work-life issues. Though the headline focuses on Mrs. Obama, at least one of the commenting authors, Wendy Sachs, brings President Obama --and by implication, all fathers--into the discussion, too. She writes:
As the father of two girls and the son of a single, working mom, the president made the Lilly Ledbetter case personal. But fair pay is just the beginning. It’s clear that President and Mrs. Obama understand the struggles facing millions of parents as they juggle work and family.

President Obama’s mood is actually reported to be much sunnier now that he can eat breakfast and dinner with his family.

She notes that he has commented on the benefits of working from home, now that he's in the White House.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Three Cheers for Lilly Ledbetter (and Barak Obama and Congress)

I like the headline on Gail Collins' column: Lilly's Big Day. Like others reporting on the momentous occasion of President Obama signing into law the Lilly Ledbetter Pay Discrimination Act, Collins is celebrating not just for Lilly Ledbetter, but for women (and people of color and others who are discriminated against) everywhere.

You probably know who Lilly Ledbetter is and what this legislation is about. If not, read on from Collins' column:
Obama told her story over and over when he campaigned for president: How Ledbetter, now 70, spent years working as a plant supervisor at a tire factory in Alabama. How, when she neared retirement, someone slipped her a pay schedule that showed her male colleagues were making much more money than she was. A jury found her employer, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, to be really, really guilty of pay discrimination.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that Ledbetter should have filed her suit within 180 days of the first discriminatory pay check, and they threw out her claim. (As Collins notes, don't the chances of discovering that one is a victim of pay discrimination during the first 6 months on the job seem mighty slim?)

Collins recounts the stories of other female plaintiffs in the "special sorority" that Ledbetter now joins, and her column is well worth a read to learn about these inspiring women whose claims have shaped the law, even as the women themselves received little personal gain from their litigation.

So, here's to Lilly Ledbetter, 70, and recently widowed. Her case won't be retried, and she will receive no back pay from Goodyear, but she's gotten a consolation prize: she danced with the President at the Neighborhood Ball celebrating his inauguration, and she was with him and Michelle Obama today at the White House.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"free from the scrutiny of feminists"

That part of this story about "Dating a Banker Anonymous" caught my eye.
In addition to meeting once or twice weekly for brunch or drinks at a bar or restaurant, the group has a blog, billed as “free from the scrutiny of feminists,” that invites women to join “if your monthly Bergdorf’s allowance has been halved and bottle service has all but disappeared from your life.”
I don't even know what "bottle service" is.

Here's more on this support group from the story by Ravi Somaiya.
They shared their sad stories the other night at an informal gathering of Dating a Banker Anonymous, a support group founded in November to help women cope with the inevitable relationship fallout from, say, the collapse of Lehman Brothers or the Dow’s shedding 777 points in a single day, as it did on Sept. 29.

One woman involved in the group explained, "“We do make light of everything on the blog and it’s very tongue in cheek . . . but it all stems out of really serious and heartfelt situations.”

From this feminist, no comment.

NB: This story was on the top-10 most emailed list for about 24 hours after its initial appearance in the paper.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The new U.S. Senator from New York

N.Y. Governor David Paterson hinted that the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Hillary Rodham Clinton has become a woman's seat when he announced Friday that U.S. Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand will fill the position. Caroline Kennedy, considered by many the front runner, had withdrawn her candidacy a few days earlier.

There is a lot I could comment on regarding Ms. Gillibrand's politics, which are a real mixed bag, though seemingly pro-woman (she supports abortion rights). What I want to focus on here, however, is the media's portrayal of her as a mother. It is deep in the NYT story by Michael Powell and Raymond Hernandez before we learn that Ms. Gillibrand is the mother of young children--including an infant. Here's an excerpt:
Ms. Gillibrand is indisputably intense; a rising corporate lawyer before entering Congress, she worked until the day before she gave birth to her first son, Theodore, now 5 (and received a standing ovation on the floor of the House when she did the same before the birth of her second son, Henry, who is now 8 months old).
The accompanying slide show on the NYT site also includes two photos of Ms. Gillibrand as mother, but they are the final two in the group of ten images.

So, it seems, Ms. Gillibrand's status as a mother does not loom large, at least not in the NYT coverage. That is certainly different from how the media played up, for example, Sarah Palin's motherhood--but perhaps that difference has something to do with how each candidate herself handles the issue.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Proving once again how quick we are to judge women, especially mothers

Eleanor Beardsley's report about Justice Minister Rachida Dati returning to work five days after giving birth makes a lot of good points about whether this is a good thing or bad thing for women.

Here's a quote from Florence Montreynaud, a writer and feminist:

I think it's terrible for all the women in France . . . . Because this example separates women into two categories: a few superwomen with a wonderful job, and millions [of] other women that are totally normal to feel a little tired after birth. These women are — what to say — sissy? Or weakling?
The editor of the French magazine Closer, however, praised Dati, 43, calling her a symbol of the modern woman. He said:

I think these images will stay on the memoire collective, on the memory of all the French women, because it's a very strong image . . . . I think this image gives hope to women in their 40s, women who want children. Because it shows that you can be pregnant and keep very important responsibilities in your job.

Dati happens to be unmarried, and she has not disclosed the identity of the child's father. She is also iconic in France because she is a rare immigrant success story, the daughter of Algerian-Moroccan parents.

One angle that Beardsley doesn't amplify but that speaks for itself in this report is how we judge women--especially mothers--for their choices. She reports poll results indicating that 56% of those surveyed disapprove of Dati's quick return to work.

French law provides a 16-week paid maternity leave and strong job protection for mothers.

The 36th anniversary of the decision in Roe v. Wade

ItalicToday is the 36th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision. Listen to NPR's news analysis here, including coverage of what we might expect of Obama in reversing some Bush-era abortion restrictions.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Why the Obama administration may be good for women scientists

Read Natalie Angier's story here. It is one of the top-10 stories on a day after it was posted there.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Why women don't support one another

Read Peggy Klaus's piece in the New York Times. Here's a fascinating--if discouraging--excerpt.
And if you are a woman and happen to have a female co-worker who is a bully, watch out. A recent study by the Workplace Bullying Institute examining office behaviors — like verbal abuse, job sabotage, misuse of authority and destroying of relationships — found that female bullies aim at other women more than 70 percent of the time. Bullies who are men, by contrast, tend to be equal-opportunity tormentors when it comes to the gender of their target.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Courageous Afghan girls pursue education, despite perils

Dexter Filkins of the New York Times reports today about the aftermath of an attack on school girls in Kandahar, Afghanistan, a few months ago. Several men on a motorcycle sprayed acid on 15 female students and teachers as they walked to school. Now mostly recovered, the girls have returned to school. Here's an excerpt describing the school (built five years ago by the Japanese government), its students, and the social and cultural milieu.

The girls burst through the school’s walled compound, many of them flinging off head-to-toe garments, bounding, cheering and laughing in ways that are inconceivable outside — for girls and women of any age. Mirwais has no regular electricity, no running water, no paved streets. Women are rarely seen, and only then while clad in burqas that make their bodies shapeless and their faces invisible.

Yet, as Filkins reports, girls "flock to the school." Ah, the gift of education that we are too quick to take for granted.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New study of women lawyers by US and Canadian authors

I heard these two women, Fiona Kay of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, and Elizabeth Gorman of the University of Virginia, speak about women lawyers at the annual meeting of the Law and Society Association last spring. Now, they have a joint publication forthcoming. Here's the abstract:
In recent years, the legal profession has undergone significant change, with rapidly rising numbers of women among its membership. Scholars of legal history, sociology, economics, organizational behavior, and law have examined various dimensions of the feminization of the legal profession. This review traces the parameters of integration and inequality in the careers of women and men in the contemporary legal profession. We document and assess the theoretical explanations of gender inequalities that persist across legal education, hiring, remuneration, promotions, and other professional opportunities in law. We also examine women's responses to their experiences and women's impact on the law and the profession.
It appears that the full paper is not yet available for downloading, but here is the link to the abstract on, where the full paper is likely to be available later.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Readers respond to NYT story about home-spun abortion

Read them here. They mostly focus on the high cost of a medical abortion, the social censure some women face, and the need for better and more widespread education about reproductive options.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Dowd speaks up for Caroline Kennedy

Read the column here, Sweet on Caroline, in which Maureen Dowd naturally manages to work in a slam on Hillary (which I am sure will not be her last).

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Home-spun methods for inducing abortion still in use in U.S.

Read the New York Times story by Jennifer 8. Lee and Cara Buckley here. They focus on the phenomenon of self-induced abortion within the Dominican community, sometimes with the aid of a drug licensed for other uses, sometimes by having someone punch them in the stomach, sometimes with other homespun "remedies." When abortion is legal, why do they take such risks? Apparently because they find these options more private and "easier."