Friday, October 28, 2016

#1000blackgirlbooks reading challenge

Earlier this year I came across this article about a young girl in New Jersey who was collecting books with black, female protagonists under the hashtag #1000blackgirlbooks.  Her name is Marley Dias, and she was tired of reading books about white boys and/or their dogs. We’ve talked in class about representation, both in watching MissRepresentation and with the election.  One area we haven’t delved into is literature. 
I was that bookworm child who grew up to be an English Lit major.  I read everything I could get my hands on as a kid, and luckily I had a mother who made sure that most of what I got my hands on were books with female protagonists.  But, like Marley, I hadn’t been exposed to that many books about people of color.  We read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry in middle school, but that was about it. 
                It wasn’t until college that I learned how much the study of literature was shaped by the stories of white men.  In junior year I took a class entirely devoted to reading Toni Morrison’s novels.  It was in that class that I developed a conviction that I not only needed to be reading more books by women and authors of color, but I needed to be actively encouraging others to do so as well.  Law school dulled that conviction a bit.  So, when I read about Marley’s quest to give other girls that looked like her heroes to read about, I was ashamed to look at the books that I had brought to Davis with me. 
                I own over 500 books.  I had taken a full hour to decide which of my favorites to bring with me.  As I looked around my bedroom I saw that of the 15 or so books I had brought along, only 2 novels written by women, and just 1 other was written a non-white man.  I was surrounded by books written by middle-aged, white men: Tolstoy, Lewis, Tolkien, Martin.  I made a promise to myself to pick out books to diversify my Davis library the next time I visited my parents. 
                A few months after the article highlighting Marley's bookdrive came out, BeyoncĂ©’s visual album Lemonade was released.   Of the many responses to the album, my favorite was the Lemonade Syllabus.  For it, Candice Benbow sorted through submissions from Twitter of books, poetry, movies, and more that further spoke to the themes of black womanhood that are found in Lemonade.  I looked at the list of novels, and didn’t recognize any names beyond Toni Morrison and Zora Neal Hurston.  I felt disappointment in myself.  Here I was, 3 years after that class in undergrad, without having progressed any further. 

                So, I renewed my promise, and I challenge you to do the same.  Every other (nonacademic) book I read will be written by either a woman or a person of color, preferably a woman of color.  So much of what we believe as a culture is formed by so called “classic” stories.  But we get to choose what is classic.  If enough of us read books by people who are not white men, we can shift the standard, and, hopefully, make it so that there never needs to be another #1000blackgirlbooks campaign.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

"Stand by your man" is perhaps a thing of the past: country music's feminist rebels

Let's start with the fact that this isn't the first Feminist Legal Theory blog post about country music, so I'm not too ashamed. I find myself in good company. However in a liberal region of the US and an intellectual environment no less –it’s not easy to admit an appreciation for country music.

This is particularly difficult in a feminist forum because, like Iris Goldsztajn in this article, I frequently find myself "desperately trying to reconcile the catchy tunes with their often clearly misogynistic lyrics." The more I celebrate my feminist ideals and understand myself to be a feminist (didn't know if I'd be saying those words six weeks ago, but grappling with the question goes far beyond our class), the more I switch the radio dial away from the local pop-country station.

Country music has gripped me from a young age, however –my mom and I have always sung country songs around the house, and though he'll never admit they're country, my dad was the first to get me interested in the stylings of Little Feat and Lyle Lovett and Chris Whitley. These are my roots. This is the kind of music that I think of when I think of home.

Even from my early years, I understood the genre to be male-dominated. The few women that did get airplay on country radio said passive-aggressive things to other women like "I'm begging of you please don't take my man." (No knocks on Jolene, though, this song is one of the best.) In addition, male country musicians and fans have been consistently misogynistic and patronizing toward female country musicians. One example is the tension and subsequent legal action between Dolly Parton and her song-writing partner Porter Wagoner, whom she called "very much a male chauvinist pig.” Another, the Dixie Chicks' enduring a slue of insults including "big mouths" and "dixie sluts" after their open criticism of the Iraq war in 2003.

I have thus been thinking a lot about relinquishing my love for country, and particularly pop-country, in a kind of protest of a genre that embraces ideals I find detestable. (Many indie-country acts out there have less of a machismo-misogynist feel: Ryan Adams, Shakey Graves, and The Civil Wars, just to name a few.) As I began to ponder this music-boycott, I immediately mourned the catchy, upbeat, guitar-driven songs that I had loved in the past.

Despite myself, I recently attended the Dixie Chicks last concert of their 2016 tour at the Hollywood Bowl. While the Dixie Chicks are seen as country outliers, they still fit squarely in the pop-country genre. I was afraid that I would return from this concert to Feminist Legal Theory class embarrassed that I'd crossed my own country-music-picket-line. But what I saw at the show thrilled me: I saw thousands of women. They danced out of their seats and full-throatedly sang songs like "Goodbye Earl" about a woman helping a friend out of an abusive relationship, and "Ready to Run" about avoiding marriage before you're ready. I realized then that if I want my pop-country music to be more feminist, perhaps I just need to look for it.

This is where women like Miranda Lambert and Jennifer Nettles come in. No one could call these ladies 'indie.' Like the Dixie Chicks, they're pure pop-country. However, Lambert introduced her song "Gunpowder and Lead" in a 2013 concert this way: "Now I've got to tell you two things: #1: I know how to use a shotgun. #2: It is never OK for a man to beat up on a woman. So that's why I wrote this pretty little love song."

Jennifer Nettles released a handful of songs with a feminist feel on her most recent album "Playing with Fire." The song "Drunk in Heels" has the lyrics:
Tired, tired, dog ass tired
Tired down to the bone
I've did a forty hour week
At the Quik-E-Mart
And another thirty-five at home
Dead, dead, the walking dead
Dead right on my feet
I like to put on my pajamas and go to bed
But no one in the house would eat
If I go to work
I have to makeup my whole face
And if once a month I wanna shoot the whole damn place
Well I just have to deal
If I bring home the bacon
I have to fry it up in a pan
I ain't saying that it's easier to be a man
But let's get real . . .

These current musicians who hoist a feminist flag remind that female pop-country artists have been pointing out paternalism's barriers for decades, if you really look for it. Dolly Parton's "Just Because I'm a Woman," Loretta Lynn's "The Pill," and more recently, Gillian Welch's "Miss Ohio" are just a few examples. More female empowerment country music can be found in this great article from the Country Music Project, or in this Elle piece entitled "Where Are All the Feminist Country Songs?"

I still listen to Dolly, Loretta, and Patsy Cline, despite that the majority of their songs are less forward-thinking than Lambert, Nettles, and the Dixie Chicks. I also still have a soft spot for all of the male musicians above: indeed, I'm convinced that Chris Whitley's Living With the Law is one of the greatest road trip albums in the world of music.

I think the most important lesson I've learned is that I can't abandon my music roots, just because their paternalistic origins haven't yet been up-ended. I think this sentiment goes for my roots on all accounts. It's time to look at them critically, and find new ways to view them. And also, to appreciate them for what they are, despite what they aren't.

And, for an upbeat pop-country-music ending from Sugarland: I hope "I will/Find what it means to be the girl/Who changed her mind and changed her world."

Empowerment in Protecting the Male Ego

To be male means to be strong and powerful. To be male means to be hard-working and in control. To be male means to be needed by women.

Men generally consider that women require a male presence in their lives for various reasons. That they need men in their everyday life to carry out the menial tasks that they, as females, couldn’t possibly undertake. For instance, men earn a living in the public sphere to provide for their wives at home caring for their children and cleaning their houses. Women should not strive to work outside the home. Should they do such a thing, the male species would be at a loss. What purpose would men serve then?

Upon consideration of this I began to realise the power women truly have over men. By the definition of the word, a man will only feel superior to a woman if he believes he is better and more capable than she is. Therefore, when women break this stereotype, the man is insecure in himself and unsure of what his role is. In this sense, women have a lot of power. We have the power to allow men to feel needed, even when they may not be.

In an episode of ‘That 70s Show’ that I recently came across, a seventeen-year-old girl is scolded by her mother for not allowing her boyfriend to feel like the “man” in the relationship. She goes on to explain that, while making your own abilities seem lesser for the benefit of the man seems anti-feminist, it is, in itself, an act of feminism. Allowing one’s self to appear weaker and more fragile in front of a man is a means by which one can gain a great deal of control. While he believes you require his strength and/or varying abilities, you are, in fact, permitting him to feel this way. The power is in the hands of the woman to determine the outcome of the situation. In this way, the man believes he has a great deal of power. In reality, however, any power he believes he might have, has  been granted to him by the woman. In this way it can, just as easily, be taken away.

This issue can be seen quite clearly in Trump’s very questionable campaign for presidency. It is very obvious that much of his strategy, to improve his own image, involves the insulting of others, no one more so than his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Trump attacks not only all of womankind but, specifically, Mrs. Clinton. In an attempt to make her look like an incapable candidate, he couldn’t help but attack her appearance.
The attack serves to claim that Clinton is much too weak to serve as the President of the United States. He uses her ill health as a means of belittling her in front of the nation, portraying her as frail and old.
Could it be possible, however, for Clinton to draw a sense of power from this? Trump uses her supposed fragility to reinstate his masculinity and protective power but, if this is a candidate who relies on the shortcomings of his opponent’s well-being to further his own position, what legitimate strength does he have? It makes me wonder about the tactics Trump would adopt were he running against a man. It is an example of how a strong female highlights his insecurities. It is to be acknowledged that women can draw a sense of empowerment from this knowledge.

This hilarious JustBoobs sketch deals with the fragility of the male ego in a very satirical way. The women in this video address the many ways in which women should be careful about damaging men’s confidence. It comically describes the many ways in which women are expected to put themselves down to protect the feelings of a man. The conception that a man is required by females is ironic given man’s greater need for women. I feel it is a very positive way to view the many ways in which males have a tendency to try and put women down. Whether or not the woman is willing to act on this control, it is empowering in itself to know that one has the power to make a man feel almost entirely obsolete.  In this way, to be female is to be needed by men. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

An ultra-Orthodox paradox

Israeli Judaism is divided in four main branches: secular (Hilonim), traditional (Masortim), Zionist-Orthodox (modern-orthodox, Datiim) and ultra-Orthodox (Haredim). A new Pew Research Center survey finds that nearly all Israeli Jews self-identify with one of four subgroups.

The Haredi branch is known to have quite extreme policies and beliefs when it comes to women. In Beit Shemesh, a city in which roughly half of the residents is Haredi and the other half is more moderate, a number of conflicts and violent clashes have arisen in the recent years, as the Haredi population keeps growing. 

For example, protests erupted in 2011 after a group of ultra-Orthodox men spat on an 8-year-old girl and called her a whore as she walked to school in her uniform (Huffington Post). She and the other girls and women who were cursed, spat on, threatened or beaten was not "dressed modestly" enough in the Haredi group's opinion. Other similar events occurred in relation with gender segregation on public buses, which is required by ultra-Orthodox Judaism but is supposed to be strictly voluntary, as the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled. As a result to these acts ofoppression, women in the area are becoming increasingly feminist

Moreover, this previous blog post describes well what it means to be a woman in Jerusalem, as it discusses the relationship between tradition and discrimination.

However, discrimination against Haredi women surprisingly does not exist in one area. That area is Israel's Haredi literary world. Indeed, some 80 percent of the community's writers are women, as Haaretz reports. Of course, rabbis still engage in censorship. When a word or topic is problematic, the novel is published in two versions - one fit for Haredi readers and one for the secular ones. This happened with a book on pregnancy, which is sold in a "for married women only" section of Haredi bookstores, because pregnancy is 
a word whose usage is avoided in public, for reasons of modesty (Haaretz).
One can only wonder about the reasons ultra-Orthodox female authors are so prolific in Israel. The prominent authors interviewed in the Haaretz article, Sarah Fechter and Mali Avraham, have very unique and interesting views. Fechter said:
 The men sit and study. A writer is ‘formed’ around the age of 20, and at that age the men are studying and don’t have time for fiction. There aren’t many 20-year-old men who write. 
After all, maybe reasons behind this phenomenon do not matter that much, although it is interesting to hypothesize. Some of these female authors are really famous and, in my opinion, their work is probably beneficial to the Haredi community. It gives women a voice, a chance to be heard and to connect - with other women and men, secular or not, through literature.

My reaction to 'Half the Sky'

The documentary adaptation of Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunne’s book Half the Sky” is a captivating portrayal of women’s oppression in the developing world. The documentary compiles a series of anecdotes telling the truly horrifying experiences of impoverished young girls and women. It exposes the sex slavery and human trafficking industries in areas such as Sierra Lione, Cambodia and India. I could barely keep it together during our viewing in class and still get emotional thinking of the women whose stories were revealed.

They tell how these women are beaten and raped if they try to resist the men who have bought them and how many contract AIDS from forced sex work without protection. They tell how in some cultures it’s accepted practice for a man to rape the woman he wants to marry to force her to submit to him. What invoked my feeling of utter hopelessness was the complete lack of investigation by the authorities. When perpetrators are caught, they are let go and even worse still, some complaints are not investigated at all.

The bare exposure of the sex slavery industry in this documentary lead me to reflect on my own experience as a young volunteer with the Children of Nyumbani Trust Foundation in Nairobi, Kenya. I worked in an orphanage with children whose Mothers had fallen victim of rural Africa’s torturous sex-trade. The kids in the orphanage were all HIV positive and were of high risk of contracting AIDS in their late teens. The youngest child I cared for was a two-year old girl called Mia.

It is extremely difficult to come to terms with women’s oppression in the developing world when you are met with the innocent, bright-eyed children whose lives are forever tarnished as result. This vile rape culture haunts their past and desolates their future. It is sickening to think that such beauty and purity can come from such evil, malicious intent.

One of the most shocking parts of Half the Sky is its depiction of the female genital mutilation (FGM) tradition which appears to be a high-earning trade in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. FGM is performed in the mistaken belief that it will benefit the girl in some way for example, as preparation for marriage or to preserve her virginity. This can be contrasted with the laws against FGM in the western world. In the UK, FGM is a serious criminal offence. Anyone who performs FGM can face up to fourteen years in prison and anyone found guilty of failing to protect a girl from FGM can face up to seven years in prison.

Half the Sky is a harrowing depiction of women’s lives in the developing world. It lays bare the utter powerlessness of the uneducated. It highlights the humiliation and torture these women are forced to endure in silence. While the viewing of this documentary was not a pleasant experience, it has heightened my awareness of the oppression and neglect of these women. It has motivated me to use my position as a citizen of a privileged country to speak the truth and to educate others on what is being hidden in the developing nations. After all, it is geographical luck that I was born in to a society which strives to protect, not to torture. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Toxic locker rooms

The candidate's comments do not need repeating. Our news cycle runs so quick that I was shocked my friend had not heard the 2005 clip yet by 2 P.M. the day they were released. The 2005 conversation between a then-59-year-old-twice-divorced-known-adulterer-accused-rapist-now-presidential-candidate and an off-brand Bush was so utterly disgusting it overshadowed the fact the former recently stated he still believes the Central Park 5 are guilty.

The relative moral outrage to the two statements is telling. Many politicians/pundits cited their daughters/mothers/wives to justify their anger and disappointment. Between the lines, these reactions also say: calling for the lynching of innocent black men just isn’t that big of a deal to me, and women’s humanity isn’t enough for me to care about sexual assault. But, weeks before the election, I am just happy conservatives are renouncing the Republican candidate. Today,  I am more concerned with the apologists.

Locker room talk. That is the justification from surrogates, supporters, and straight from the horse’s mouth. Some men have dismissed the locker room defense, pointing to their own benign experiences and essentially proclaiming “my locker room was not like that.” While I know that all-male locker rooms are not always hellholes, I have seen the worst of American masculinity come out in the locker room.

In junior high I witnessed a classmate get his underwear ripped off after P.E. class. In high school, I was held down and beat in the locker room after football practice. I carried a pocketknife to school because an upperclassman had a penchant for going nude and shoving underclassmen’s face into his groin. The conversations ranged from lewd to explicitly violent.

I disagree with the apologists. The candidate’s comments do represent “locker room talk.” And therein lies the problem. All-male spaces are the breeding grounds for misogyny and violence. Philip Cohen, writing on single gender workspaces,  put it best: “To understand the relationship between culture and behavior, you have to consider the possibility that extreme behavior is the tail end of a long distribution.” (

The Access Hollywood clip represents the spectrum of behavior that rape culture enables. On one end of the distribution is the listener who does not object, Billy Bush. In the middle is the trivialization of sexual violence, the actual recorded conversation. And at the extreme end are the acts of violence, committed by the man who wants to be president.  

All-male spaces play a pivotal role in fostering rape culture, in normalizing “locker room talk.” When men are not forced to confront the humanity of women in spaces that dominate their life, the mindset leaches out. The incubation of toxic masculinity results in real violence, against men and women alike.

The law has spurred along changes in all-male spaces, from the Virginia Military  Institute to the coal mine depicted in North Country. Yet no one would deny that more progress is needed. Which is why I am intrigued by a new all-male space that’s been created to spur change.

Students at Duke University and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill are both leading the charge of male group introspection. The Duke Women’s Center is sponsoring the Duke Men’s project with the hope of spurring the deconstruction of toxic masculinity. The nine-week program will consist of male-identified students and they’ll discuss privilege, the language of dominance, and intersectional feminism.

While the success of this project remains to be seen, I am optimistic about its prospects. An all-male setting might encourage higher participant receptiveness to the curriculum. The project is turning the locker room on its head, forcing the participants to grapple with gender issues when mothers, sisters, wives and daughters are not around. I hope that this, in turn, will make the participants better allies whose resistance to misogyny is rooted in the recognition of female humanity.

Links to posts about the Duke Men's Project and their Facebook page:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"I am Untouchable Now": Menstruation Taboos in South Asia

The last blog post written by Josie Zimmerman excited me with the discussion about female headed companies that are trying to provide the menstruating public with more products. However it also reminded me how women in other countries not only don't have options or access to menstruating products, but are shamed and put to the side lines of society while they are on their periods.

One of these countries is Nepal, a country which I love and receive my heritage from, but one in which rituals surrounding menstruation that shame and ostracize women continue to be practiced. This is most evident in the practice of Chhaupadi. Recently covered in a Guardian article this year, Chhaupadi instructs a woman be banished to a shed or structure outside of the main house and dictates that she not enter her home, cook, touch her parents, go to school or school. If a woman does not follow the dictates of Chhaupadi she is told she will bring destruction and misfortune to her family. "If she touches a crop, it wilts; If she fetches water, the well dries up; If she picks fruit, it doesn't ripen" (The Gaurdian).

Chhaupadi, which translates to "untouchable being," has been practiced in parts of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. Its origins can be found in ancient Hindu scripture which says women are highly infectious while they are menstruating. While often thought of as solely practiced in rural isolated villages, an NPR article "A Girl Gets Her Period and is Banished to a Shed: #15 Girls" showed that the ideas surrounding Chhaupadi effects even girls who live in cities and have progressive parents. The article interviewed Prakriti, a teenager living in Kathmandu and studying for the SAT's to get into an American university, who told reporters she was blamed for her father's hospitalization for touching him while she was on her period. Even I, as a half Nepali growing up in the United States, was told by my father's aunt that I was not allowed to visit the temple while I was on my period.

While shame around menstruation is still ongoing and prevalent in South Asia, there are efforts to fight the stigma. Women in Nepal are beginning to flip the script on the long held ritual of Chhaupadi. For example, Prakriti who was told her father ended up in the hospital because she broke a dictate of Chhaupadi, has written her own book Imposter, which envisions a society where menstruation gives women superpowers. Also in India, entrepreneurs like Arunachalam Muruganantham are creating affordable and safe menstruation products for women who had previously been relegated to using dirty rags in private.

Chhaupadi is a practice that not only effects a woman physically - where she sleeps and eats, but also effects her mentally. It instructs her that having her period is something negative, something that only brings her distress and loneliness. The practice not only tells girls they are less then boys, but puts them in a position of inequality in society. While the practice won't disappear overnight, every small action that fights the stigma of menstruation will help take down Chhaupadi.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Red wave of female CEOs

The comments on my last post brought up the recent media attention paid to President Obama’s female staffers.  The New York Times Magazine shone a light (see what I did there) on a technique the outnumbered women in the President’s Cabinet used to support each other and make sure their contributions were acknowledged.  It got me thinking about where else, beyond pop culture, I could find some examples of Shine Theory. 

I started with thinking about products that are marketed specifically to women.  Now, I don’t mean Lady Bics (covered so well by Flamingo).  I am thinking more about products that propose to fill a void in the market because they are “niche.” The first niche market that came to mind was menstrual products.  Companies like Thinx, Lola, and DivaCup have sprung up in the last few years as innovators in the world of feminine hygiene.  Unsurprisingly, these companies have been spearheaded by women who are frustrated with the lack of modernization in the industry.  The founders and co-founders of each of these companies were brought together in a common desire to put a product on the market that met a need they had seen ignored.   

The world of period management hasn’t been much updated in the last few decades.  The biggest stir to the market was Kotex’s advertising campaign that presented a more “real” depiction of what Aunt Flo is like.  In the wake of this stagnation, Lola, Thinx, and DivaCup tackle this issue of subpar feminine hygiene products in different ways.  

Lola is a tampon subscription service.  They use 100% cotton (which is shockingly atypical) and allow customers to customize the number of each size tampon in their order.  Thinx is a lingerie line that has absorbent, antimicrobial layers in the crotch that can absorb up to 2 tampons worth of liquid.  Finally, DivaCup is a silicone menstrual cup that is used instead of tampons or pads.  Though they approach the market with different fixes, the brands present themselves in very similar ways.  Each felt that the standard tampon/pad dichotomy was not good enough, and each found a new way to make women’s lives a bit easier.   

This is Shine Theory on a grand scale.  The women behind these companies not only partnered up with other women to get their ideas out there.  They also joined their voices with those of women across the country whose needs are often overlooked.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Abortion ban: the power of Polish protesters

I tend to think that in this day and age in the Western countries and especially in Europe, reproductive rights are a given. Alas, I am often reminded that it is not the case, and women in Europe - like those around the world - still have to fight to gain or keep their rights to contraception and abortion.

In Poland, historical events are taking place right now. As The New York Times reports,
Poland's existing abortion law is already one of the most restrictive in Europe. Abortion is permitted in only three cases : a severe fetal anomaly, a threat to the mother's health and life, or a pregnancy from rape or sexual abuse.
Because the existing law was not restrictive enough in the eyes of a civil organization called Stop Abortion, they proposed a new legislation to criminalize all abortions. In other words, this legilsation would impose a complete and total ban on abortion for women and doctors, who would face up to five years of jail time.

The proposition got enough signatures and support from the Polish conservative party (PiS) and the Catholic Church that it was considered by the Parliament. The power and influence of the Catholic Church on lawmakers in Catholic countries is considerable (see this excellent blog post about Women in Ireland).

On Monday, October 3rd, about thirty thousand men and women all wearing black clothes protested in the streets of multiple Polish cities. They protested with slogans such as "My body my choice", "Women just want to have FUN-damental rights". Many walked with hangers in their hands. Poland's Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski seemed unimpressed by the mass protest as he declared on the radio on the same day:
Let them have their fun [...] by dressing up, screaming silly slogans and vulgarities [they are] making a mockery of very important issues (The Guardian).
Nonetheless, today conservative lawmakers reversed their position and voted against the ban. The same members of Parliament backed the proposed legislation just days ago. It is thus undeniable that the protesters were successful in being heard.

Still, the new law is not yet buried, because
the lower house of parliament will still vote tomorrow to either reject the bill completely or return it to the committee for more work (Slate).
However, the organization Stop Abortion seems to have lost hope, as they casually declared murdered children lost. The Guardian notes that the Polish Senate speaker suggested a compromise law that would only ban the fetal anomaly exception. This is still a possibility,  in which case, protests are likely to continue.

I think it is important to notice how great an impact the Polish protesters had. They were heard and will keep on protesting if they have to, which I find inspiring. They took the power they had and collectively managed to change politicians' votes.

If a woman finds sanctuary in her work, does that make her less real?

A friend of mine read a recent blog post that I wrote about Hillary Clinton, and emailed me her passionate support of my viewpoint. It seemed an innocuous and pleasing email, until I realized that my friend endures an injustice that I hadn't often considered. My friend, let's call her M, was particularly taken with a New York Times article cited in the blog post called Why Is Clinton Disliked?. This article, penned by David Brooks, essentially determines that Hillary's overwhelming issue is that she isn't intimate enough to the public because she is a workaholic.

Brooks goes on to say that for people who are "consumed by their professional activities," the "professional role comes to dominate the personality and encroaches on the normal intimacies of the soul." This comment made me wonder, are men frequently expected to engage in "intimacies of the soul" in our society? I think not. Brooks is thus likely criticizing women "workaholics" in particular, as opposed to workaholics in general.

The idea of this article deeply troubled M. She is extraordinarily career-oriented, and she was particularly bothered by the ending of the Brooks article: "Even successful lives need these sanctuaries — in order to be a real person instead of just a productive one. It appears that we don’t really trust candidates who do not show us theirs." To this, M responded: "Which begs the question: what if a person finds sanctuary in their work? Does this make them less 'real'?" She was worried, in particular, if it made her less real. I'm worried it might make me less real, too.

This worry led me to dig into a question that I thought feminism and our great nation had answered long ago: what do we think of passionately working (er . . .'workaholic') women? What I found was horrifying. I found a Huffington Post article  called 10 Things Nobody Tells You About Being A Single, Career-Oriented Woman in Your Twenties, whose main gist was to discourage women from being career-oriented in their twenties, because, "you’ll wake up one day without having a husband or kids, which is not what you wanted." This article also contained this gem:
6. Men who you meet socially will not necessarily love your success (they may even be intimidated by it). 
Remember the bell curve? Well, you’re toward one end of it. And there’s a good chance that a lot of people who you meet socially won’t be on the same end of that bell curve as you. Suddenly, you’re either at work with your equally-achieving, married male colleagues or you’re out at the bar dancing to 2 Chainz. Not great.
To be fair, the author of the above article had recently been dumped for being 'career-oriented.' However, I couldn't believe her words. I thought that she must be the only person on the internet following so heartily in Phyllis Schlafly's footsteps, but of course not. While British media messages encourage women to 'get fertile,' here in the US, Penelope Trunk encourages you to find a partner fast. Here, a working mother loses custody of her children to their father, unemployed for years, who she had "begged to get a job" to help support the family. This is apparently very common.

But what are women to do in a world where they are seen as less reliable, or less hire-able because of the assumption that they are less invested in work than men? And how are women to rebound when they're also seen as breaking the rules if they do put in the extra hours, succeed, ask for higher pay, or promote themselves?

It seems a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation to me. So what can M., who loves her work, is captivated by it, who finds her work a sanctuary, do? What can I do?

I think the best we can do, as women, is to find encouragement and power in a variety of places, and continue to do what feels the most right for our own lives. One of the places both M. and I find solace is in the professors we admire. These are professionals on the forefront of the fight for disability rights, women's rights, privacy rights, and more, and they still fight for their work-life balances-- whatever that means to them. Sometimes life can be work and work can be life and that's OK, too. One admirable professor, Thomas Joo, says this about the study of law:
The lawyer learns to speak the language of the law, and in that language, he or she not only speaks the law, but also speaks about the law. Or, to put it another way, the difference between law and zoology is that zoologists do not train to become elephants. Nor do elephants bother studying zoology. But legal education requires learning both to think like a lawyer and to critically analyze that method of thinking—in other words, to become both elephant and zoologist.
Professional women must do this, too. We must learn both to think like "the ideal worker" who excels in systems built to embrace men, and we also must learn to critically analyze that method of thinking. We must resist the pressure of patriarchal work environments and look with a critical eye at their legacies. Yet we must still try to live our own ideal of success and fulfillment in the patriarchal system as it is, despite being shamed or seen as "less real." What other choice do we have than to be both the elephant and the zoologist?

This tactic of changing the system from within it might just work, too. Perhaps, with innovations like "Worker Coops" and "Results-Only Work Environments" (ROWE was developed by two women), the woman who finds sanctuary in her work may be the wave of the future. Go M., go! Keep your nose in your appellate briefs and books and articles. Publish as much as you can. I believe in you. In my eyes, you are the best kind of real.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Breaking the glass ceiling; is this enough?

The term "glass ceiling" is used to describe the transparent barrier that prevents women and other minorities from climbing up the corporate ladder in the workplace. When Hillary Clinton was elected as the first female candidate for a major political party, her first words at the National Democratic Convention were:
I can't believe we just put the biggest crack in the glass ceiling yet.
Despite this historical achievement, the media have continued to base their commentary on superficial aspects of this campaign, sometimes writing solely about Hillary Clinton's hair. An article in the New York Daily News suggested that Clinton presents a good presidential look because of her "perfect highlights" on the cover of her new book.

Have any other news broadcasters published a similar article commenting on Donald Trump's hair? My research suggests not (despite the fact that his hair raises far more questions than Hillary Clinton's and in my opinion demands further explanation.) Nor was there an equivalent article written during the publication of Barack Obama's book before he was elected.

These observations beg the question: in the eyes of the media, when will women's achievements ever be enough? It scares me to think that in future generations, those for which this "glass ceiling" is deemed nothing more than a historical metaphor, successful women will still be required, on top of everything else, to meet superficial expectations for their looks.

If I have a daughter in later life, I imagine her coming to me at a young age, innocence and determination in her eyes as she confidently tells me she would like to become the head of government when she grows up. What would my reply be? "That is wonderful honey, but even after you have successfully come through your education, built a credible political reputation and gained the trust and respect of the nation, you must then prove your candidate worthiness by having well groomed hair and exuding an overall 'presidential look'."

This dual-standard for women to not only prove themselves professionally but to also satisfy certain expectations for their demeanor and looks is manifested in pop culture. It is hyper-sexualised in the showbiz and entertainment industries. This conceivably adds an additional tier to the glass ceiling, a further requirement in order to be deemed 'the ultimate woman'.

The roast of Justin Bieber was the third most watched ever for Comedy Central. Undoubtedly, the vast majority of these viewers were adolescents, mainly young girls. The roasting panel featured Martha Stewart who was praised afterwards for her dry and vulgar jokes. In her conclusion, the lifestyle personality advised the rebellious heart-throb to search for an influential, powerful woman to marry. She described this ideal future spouse as:
...a player in the boardroom and a freak in the bedroom. 
Pop-icon Usher released a hit song in which he expresses longing for a woman who is:

...a lady in the streets and a freak in the sheets.
This can be contrasted with self-proclaimed feminist Lilly Allen's lyrics:

If I told you about my sex life, you'd call me a slut but boys are talkin' bout their b****** and no one's making a fuss. 
In the eyes of the media, a woman who excels in the public sphere must also encompass the male's ideal in the private sphere. We are told that on top of other facets such as intelligence, relatability, humour, kindness and determination, women must also look good and have sex appeal. When I graduate from college and pursue a career practicing law, I hope that I will be evaluated on my hard work and quality of service to clients, not on my hairstyle.