Posts tagged ‘Gender’

What Men Must Do To End Violence Against Women

By , 7 March, 2016, No Comment

Last night, I attended a Reclaim the Night march here in Cambridge, against the sexual violence and wider gender discrimination that is sadly common on our campus and elsewhere. I gave a short speech about the key role of men in this movement, and this is what I said:

“When thinking about what I wanted to say here tonight, I reflected on the years I have spent in the feminist movement, attending marches and rallies and protests and signing petitions and calling legislators and so on. I reflected on the feeling of support and pride and strength that I often draw from this work, and also how quickly I find that feeling dissipates when an event like this does not lead to some concrete, material change in the problem we’re trying to highlight and solve.

And so I found myself thinking about what we can do when we leave here to stop gendered violence in our community.

Let’s start with what we know about gendered violence in general and how it happens at universities in particular. The National Union of Students reported last year that 1 in 4 women students will experience some form of sexual assault during their studies. We know that’s not because 1 in 4 men are committing violence, but because the small number of men who do it tend to be repeat offenders. We know that they will continue, and commit increasingly violent acts, so long as they get away with it the first time. We know that the perpetrators are likely to know their victims socially – 90% of victims of assault say they knew the perpetrator. We are talking about boyfriends and colleagues and supervisors and professors, and not, for the most part, strangers in dark alleys.

We know too that sexual violence is not about sex. It is about power.

And one thing we know about power is that people acquire it not just to have it, but to show it off. Using sexual violence to acquire and enforce power over women – who is the audience for that? It is partly women, to make us feel victimized, weak, afraid to assert independence in other areas of our lives. And we know, horribly, that it often works to do that.

But violence against women is also something men do to show off to other men, a way of demonstrating how ‘manly’ they are, based on a particular, patriarchal definition of masculinity that hurts men too. And because violence against women is part of this status competition men are having with each other, there is, ultimately, no solution to this problem that does not involve men.

Read More →

Pakistan: Women’s Empowerment and the Women’s Vote

By , 22 March, 2013, No Comment

Political stalemate continues in Islamabad, where government and opposition leaders have failed to reach a deal on an interim government. While a parliamentary committee meets to resolve the issue, the outgoing Prime Minister is governing the country without a cabinet or parliamentary oversight. Lucky him.

In the meantime, I’ve been looking at issues that will color the upcoming election and I’m particularly intrigued by the government’s record on women’s issues.

Pakistan is a patriarchal society and that is reflected in its politics. Although women have had the right to vote since independence, female voter turnout has historically been low. That may be about to change.

The Express Tribune reports that the government has, over its five-year run, increased female voter registration by 88%, and the nearly 40 million female voters account for 44% of voter registration over all.

That’s due in large part to a popular cash-transfer program for poor women, the Benazir Income Support Program or BISP, introduced in 2008. The program has been immensely popular, and compared to other areas of Pakistani bureaucracy, relatively corruption-free. Indeed, the Asian Development Bank recently announced  a $200 million loan to help BISP to expand its work.

Its economic impact, however, is far less certain. A project manager for BISP tells me most of the recipients are spending their cash on food and other necessities. It’s not enough money for women to save and invest in education, health care or ventures that might actually lift them out of poverty for good. And with high inflation (Pakistan’s CPI is up 80% since 2008), the cash is of limited value.

A more important benefit of the program is political. In order to receive cash payments, women were required to register for national ID cards, and thereby for the electoral rolls. If those 40 million women exercise their new voting power in May, they may break heavily for the government that has been transferring them cash, a possibility not fully taken into account by polls that focus on registered voters from the previous cycle.

Women are likely to thank the government also for its legislative record. In its five year term, the National Assembly passed acts against acid attacksworkplace harassment and sexual harassment in public placesbanned forced marriages and the withholding of women’s property rightscreated a government commission on girls’ and women’s rights; and elected its first female speaker.

And yet, as the security situation in the country has worsened, women’s rights have been eroded on the ground. From the shooting of Malala Yousafzai last fall to the murder of a Karachi social worker earlier this month, militant groups have disproportionately targeted women and girls. Meanwhile, seeking to pacify these extremists, local government agencies have outsourced critical public services to religious charities with anti-woman views.

The People’s Party’s inability to curtail the violence is a huge failure in its own right, but it has also served to undermine the effects of some of the government’s best policies.

How Unilever Got Caught Discriminating Against Women (And My Part in Getting Them To Change)

By , 10 February, 2013, No Comment

It’s been a very good week for journalism and feminism.

It actually started a few weeks ago, when my friend Kate wrote a piece about a contest she’d entered to win a commercial space flight. The contest was sponsored by Axe (or Lynx as it’s known in the UK), the men’s deodorant brand, and Kate was disturbed by the sexism of the contest’s marketing. Ads feature damsels-in-distress saved by handsome men (lifeguards, firemen) who subsequently ditch these men for other, less Hollywood-looking men in astronaut suits. The tagline: “Leave a man. Return a hero.” The campaign gives the impression only men can be astronauts, and that only men can enter the contest, and Kate was right to kick up a fuss about it.

On Sunday, one of these ads aired during the Super Bowl, and I noted the sexism of it to the friends I was watching with. To my amusement, not one person had picked up that there was a contest being advertised at all. And when I told them, everyone was convinced that it had to be for men only even though I told them I knew of at least one woman, Kate, who had already entered. So I wrote my own post about the campaign, noting that in addition to being sexist, it appeared to be thoroughly counter-productive.

That’s when things started to get interesting. Late on Monday, both Kate and I got word via our blog comments that in other countries, the contest was open to men only. Countries such as Russia, Mexico, the Ukraine, Indonesia, Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. That was despite the fact that Axe spokespeople had told both of us that the contest was open to women when we’d asked.

I was angry that Axe had lied to us, and that they had confined the contest to men in the markets where they thought they could get away with it. But equally, I wondered if they had misjudged which markets those might be. At least *some* of those countries had to have anti-discrimination laws.

So I did some digging. A Russian lawyer pointed me to clauses in the Russian Constitution and Criminal Code that barred “abasement of dignity” on the basis of gender “in mass media.” A Mexican lawyer sent me to the country’s advertising regulator, whose code of ethics bars sexism in marketing materials. And a quick scan of the Unilever website (Unilever is the Anglo-Dutch conglomerate which owns Axe) found that the firm’s own code of ethics bans gender discrimination. I wrote up the relevant laws and codes in a second post and asked Axe to clarify how it was going to square the contest rules against them. That was Thursday.

Meanwhile, the sexism of the advertising was beginning to get press coverage elsewhere, at Discovery magazine and the BBC and the #astrogrrls hashtag on Twitter was busy.

Late on Thursday night, Axe came back to me with the following statement:

Unilever has communicated to all markets in all regions, that the contest is open to both men and women. Upon review, certain markets are currently revising their terms & conditions to reflect this directive.

Wow.

I write a lot about sexism and a lot about companies behaving badly, but as much as I advocate for the significance of journalism, it’s really quite rare when it leads so quickly to this kind of change.

What made it work was the fact that we – myself, Kate, Remco Timmermans, Carmen Victoria, reporters in Russia and around the world, and space geeks on Twitter – were able to coordinate with each other and eager to share information instead of jealously guarding our own scoops. One of the big surprises for me about Unilever’s mishandling of this was their assumption that it would be possible to have different contest terms in different countries, and to tell reporters and activists in different countries different things about the contest, without any of us comparing notes. Discrimination and false PR statements are always wrong, but in a digital age, they are also stupid. You will get caught.

I rail a lot against the state of contemporary feminism and in particular at the disappointing vitriol-to-substance ratio of online feminist discourse. If you’re following me on Twitter, or have the (mis)fortune to know me offline, you probably hear enough about this in one day to last you a lifetime. This week was a much-needed reminder of all the good the web can do for feminist organizing, when we’re using it to make each other stronger and not to tear each other down.

UN Week Blogging

By , 8 October, 2012, No Comment

Belatedly, taking note of two blog posts I’ve written for Forbes recently based on events I attended during UN Week.

1. The UN hosted an event on energy access and sustainability that was notable because it tried to bridge the gap between environmental activism and anti-poverty work.

Energy access is a critical prerequisite to poverty reduction, necessary for everything from heating homes to delivering public services to powering the businesses that create jobs.

Emerging powers sometimes paint these economic imperatives as incompatible with the fight against climate change. They see emissions caps as an unfair restriction on their economic advancement. But they’re wrong.

The IEA’s most recent World Energy Outlookconcluded (see p. 488) that achieving universal electricity access by 2030 would result in only a 2% increase in global emissions. That’s because the 1.3 billion people living without electricity today live in the world’s poorest countries. And poor countries that do have universal electricity today draw far less power, on a per-capita basis, than rich ones.

Of course, the ultimate aim of expanding energy access is to spur economic growth and allow poor countries to become richer. But even with dramatic economic growth, these countries won’t be approaching the kilowatt-hours consumed in the developed world until long after 2030. And by that time, we could and should have viable, affordable carbon-neutral energy systems in place.

Read the rest here.

2. The Concordia Summit held a panel discussion on women in Afghanistan that was notable because it highlighted the role the U.S. government has played in helping Afghan women achieve economic and political freedom, just days before U.S. government officials began telling the press that the U.S. won’t have much role in the postwar peace.

But the most important, and least frequently discussed danger (it gets no mention in the Timesstory) is the fate of Afghan women. One of the few goods to have come of the ISAF presence in Afghanistan is an Afghan constitution that gives women equal legal status to men (Article 22), the right to go to school (Articles 43 and 44), access jobs (Article 48) and hold political office (Article 84). Not only would a postwar government with Taliban members reverse such gains, but many woman who have made social, political and economic gains in the last decade would be in danger of suffering violent retribution and shaming from the men in their communities.

Read it all here.

I’ll be discussing what NATO withdrawal means for Afghan women on HuffPost Live today at 10:30AM Eastern. You can watch it here.

How to Lie With Statistics, Women and Child Care Edition

By , 3 August, 2012, No Comment

My latest post is up at Forbes, highlighting two research papers that look at the impact women’s earnings and the cost of child care have on women’s decisions on whether to have children and whether (or how much) to work. They are good papers, but they both make a critical error:

Both papers assume that men commit full-time to the labor force, and that the choices families are about the balance of women’s working hours and caring hours. It’s one of the most infuriating aspects of the work-life debates that the choice is so often framed that way. The reality is that in addition to earning potential and cost of child care, the degree to which male partners share in child care duties is a major factor driving women’s career and family choices.

Leaving working fathers out of the choice equation tarnishes the studies’ results, and can have a dangerous effect, if policymakers feel that the solution suggested by papers like these is to expand the choices available to women without expanding choices for men. Framing the work-life conundrum as a women’s issue only makes it more likely that it will remain women’s burden. The research error becomes self-fulfilling.

This case is a perfect example of the problem outlined by Darrell Huff in his classic book, How to Lie With Statistics. I’m a great advocate for inserting more data into debates about work and family, but it’s equally important to be skeptical of the data presented to us. Ask not just, ‘Does this data answer the question we’re asking?’ but also, ‘Are we asking the right questions?’ At the moment, I’m not convinced we are.

Read it all here.

Some Recent Things Wot I Wrote

By , 26 June, 2012, No Comment

I try to keep this blog up to date with what links to things I write elsewhere, but (as those who follow me on Twitter will know), this site’s been experiencing some downtime of late, and for much of the last week, I wasn’t even able to log in to it to post a status update. So, just in case you’ve missed these pieces, here’s what I’ve been up to during the hiatus:

1. Commenting on a slightly paradoxical hunger crisis in India: more agricultural output, but less food in the hands of the poor. Cause: Corrupt and inefficient government food subsidy program.

2. Examining the economic impact of Title IX, which is 40 years old this week. Short version: it made American women richer and more successful and helped narrow the gender achievement gap.

3. Taking the Atlantic to task for a cover story about “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” My take: neither can men (a fact the author overlooks) and who ever said ‘having it all’ was the goal? The piece is touching a nerve with a lot of readers, and I’m getting a lot of fascinating, often critical, feedback which I may revisit in a follow-up post.

I didn’t mention this in my Forbes piece, but the Atlantic does seem to have a penchant for personal essays in which individual writers frame regrets or frustrations about their experiences in critiques of feminism from within feminism. This piece reminded me quite a bit of last year’s ‘All the Single Ladies‘ and the previous year’s “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” in that respect, even though those pieces were about romantic, rather than professional, struggles. There’s an awful lot that’s wrong with being a woman today, but feminism isn’t the root of it. It’s almost always our best shot at making things better. I’m so very tired of the Atlantic suggesting otherwise.

On Unions and Gender

By , 8 June, 2012, No Comment

I’ve got a post up at Foreign Exchange, my Forbes blog, today about some new research on the British labor movement. The paper takes two trends of the last 30 years – increasing numbers of women in the workforce and declining union participation – and wonders whether they are related. The researcher, Getinet Haile, finds a few ways they are:

1. As more women enter a workplace, union participation falls. Namely, workplaces with more than the median percentage of women see a 12-percentage point decline in union density relative to workplaces where the balance is below the median.

2. That decline has more to do with men than women. Men in the workforce are 15 percent less likely to be union members if their workplace – and therefore their union – has an above-the-median level of female participation. Women in the workforce are just 7 percent less likely to be union members in a diverse workplace.

3. In female-dominated workplaces, common in fields like education or social care, union membership is still strong, and indeed, actually increases with overall diversity – i.e. the entrance of men into these fields.

4. All of the above trends are stronger in the private sector than in the public sector.

Haile goes on to explain how cultural tensions inside unions may explain some of these trends. It’s a powerful reminder that while we talk about unions as built on an assumption of class solidarity, the union movement has historically relied on the common demographic makeup of the workforce (mostly white, mostly male) to act as a kind of social glue between workers. As the workforce grows more diverse – something we should celebrate – unions may have to find new ways of binding workers together. Or they may simply fade from relevance.

Are Men Threatened By Women At Work?

By , 23 May, 2012, No Comment

Some of them are, according to a new study I’ve written up at Forbes.

Researchers at Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill surveyed men in three kinds of marriages: traditional (wives who don’t work), neo-traditional (wives working part-time) or modern (wives working full-time). And they found that the more traditional a man’s marriage, the harder he was likely to be on the women he works with.

There is an obvious reason for this: that men who live in traditional marriages are more likely to have more traditional worldviews overall and less likely to have been exposed to feminist or gender-egalitarian ideas.

The more interesting suggestion is that these men are acting out of self-interest. We know that the earnings premium for married men is highest for those whose wives don’t work outside the home, and instead provide supportive labor in the home that enables their husbands to be better employees.

And so the authors of this paper suggest that men with stay-at-home wives are enforcing in the workplace an order that they know benefits them personally, seeing the women who work for them as proxies for what their wives could become. The values these men express – that women aren’t competent at their jobs, that marriages work better when women stay home– are actually rationalizations for a self-interested reaction to a perceived threat.

Read the whole post here.

Baseball and the Marriage Premium

By , 19 October, 2011, No Comment

At Foreign Exchange:

In honor of the World Series, which starts tonight*, I dug out a research paper I’ve been sitting on for a while.

The paper, ‘Productivity, Wages, and Marriage: The Case of Major League Baseball‘ looks at the wages of baseball players and identifies a 16% gap between the wages of married players and unmarried players.

Economists have been documenting the marriage premium – the income boost (anywhere from 10 to 40 percent) married men have over their unmarried counterparts – for decades. But researchers have historically gotten stuck when it comes to providing explanations for the phenomenon: Do married men perform better because their wives are doing more of the housework? Do married men perform better because women tend to marry high performers anyway? Do married men perform about the same, but employers discriminate in their favor because they come across as reliable?  Without data about productivity, it’s hard to say.

That’s what makes the baseball study distinctive: baseball is a geek’s sport, filled with statistics, and – in a post-Moneyball world – increasingly managed by the numbers. That allowed the paper’s authors, Francesca Cornaglia and Naomi E. Feldman, to control for productivity (using both Batting Average and On-Base Plus Slugging) and sorted players into groups by age (early and late career) and ability (low, medium, or high performers). They were not only able to show that there is a marriage premium, but able to test the prevailing theories about why it exists.

Go read.

Why I am not a SlutWalker

By , 29 September, 2011, 2 Comments

On Saturday, I am going to SlutWalk. I have decided to attend the rally, where some of the walkers will give speeches explaining why they’re there, but not the march.

As someone worried that the feminist movement is losing steam, I am thrilled to see that feminist causes can still get people, especially young people, on the streets. And while I welcome the intention to combat a culture that feeds violence against women – that is a noble feminist cause if ever there was one – I am deeply uncomfortable with the way SlutWalk has framed that cause. Attending the rally allows me to be a friendly observer, to listen and try to understand, whereas marching felt like something I should do only if I felt, truly, that SlutWalk’s message was mine.

SlutWalk began as a response to the callous comments of a Toronto cop who told women that they could avoid sexual violence by covering up. He was voicing the idea, still common in some quarters, that a woman who dresses scantily or has sex often or with many partners has ceded her sexuality to the public sphere – it is now out there for anyone to use. She’s asked for it. Implied is the notion that most women don’t like sex, and therefore that affirmative consent – of a woman asking for sex explicitly when she wants it and not being forced to participate in it when she doesn’t – is impossible.

Affirmative consent was framed quite neatly in the 1970s with the slogan, “Whatever I wear and wherever I go, ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and ‘no’ means ‘no,’ ” Because it requires people to understand female sexuality, affirmative consent has gotten a big boost from shows like Sex and the City, which, despite its flaws, helped mainstream the idea that women like sex too, and not just the vanilla kind you see written up in Cosmo‘s advice pages. In gender studies departments, this is often referred to as ‘sex-positivity.’ And it’s great.

What distinguishes SlutWalk is a decision to affirm female sexuality by appropriating the word so often used to degrade it: slut.

Read More →