Thursday, September 27, 2007

Men Are Happier?

According to a team of psychologists and an economist, the happiness gap between men and women is widening with, guess what?, women claiming to be less happy than men.

Two new research papers, using very different methods, have both come to this conclusion. Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, economists at the University of Pennsylvania (and a couple), have looked at the traditional happiness data, in which people are simply asked how satisfied they are with their overall lives. In the early 1970s, women reported being slightly happier than men. Today, the two have switched places.

Mr. Krueger, analyzing time-use studies over the last four decades, has found an even starker pattern. Since the 1960s, men have gradually cut back on activities they find unpleasant. They now work less and relax more.

Over the same span, women have replaced housework with paid work — and, as a result, are spending almost as much time doing things they don’t enjoy as in the past. Forty years ago, a typical woman spent about 23 hours a week in an activity considered unpleasant, or 40 more minutes than a typical man. Today, with men working less, the gap is 90 minutes.

Well that sucks, but there is no real new news here. We know that women are working double shifts. I didn't know, however, that men are relaxing more and working less. But, what really caught my eye about this study is the following:

These trends are reminiscent of the idea of “the second shift,” the name of a 1989 book by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild, arguing that modern women effectively had to hold down two jobs. The first shift was at the office, and the second at home.

But researchers who have looked at time-use data say the second-shift theory misses an important detail. Women are not actually working more than they were 30 or 40 years ago. They are instead doing different kinds of work. They’re spending more time on paid work and less on cleaning and cooking.

What has changed — and what seems to be the most likely explanation for the happiness trends — is that women now have a much longer to-do list than they once did (including helping their aging parents). They can’t possibly get it all done, and many end up feeling as if they are somehow falling short.

I do think its right to point out that women are not necessarily working more hours now, but rather are splitting their days into paid work and unpaid work. In fact, I am not sure that I have seen anyone else point out that out.

Mr. Krueger’s data, for instance, shows that the average time devoted to dusting has fallen significantly in recent decades. There haven’t been any dust-related technological breakthroughs, so houses are probably just dirtier than they used to be. I imagine that the new American dustiness affects women’s happiness more than men’s.

Ms. Stevenson was recently having drinks with a business school graduate who came up with a nice way of summarizing the problem. Her mother’s goals in life, the student said, were to have a beautiful garden, a well-kept house and well-adjusted children who did well in school. “I sort of want all those things, too,” the student said, as Ms. Stevenson recalled, “but I also want to have a great career and have an impact on the broader world.”

It’s telling that there is also a happiness gap between boys and girls in high school. As life has generally gotten better over the last generation — less crime, longer-living grandparents and much cooler gadgets — male high school seniors have gotten happier. About 25 percent say they are very satisfied with their lives, up from 16 percent in 1976. Roughly 22 percent of senior girls now give that answer, unchanged from the 1970s.

When Ms. Stevenson and I were talking last week about possible explanations, she mentioned her “hottie theory.” It’s based on an April article in this newspaper by Sara Rimer, about a group of incredibly impressive teenage girls in Newton, Mass. The girls were getting better grades than the boys, playing varsity sports, helping to run the student government and doing community service. Yet one girl who had gotten a perfect 2,400 on her college entrance exams noted that she and her friends still felt pressure to be “effortlessly hot.”

As Ms. Stevenson, who’s 36, said: “When I was in high school, it was clear being a hottie was the most important thing, and it’s not that it’s any less important today. It’s that other things have become more important. And, frankly, people spent a lot of time trying to be a hottie when I was in high school. So I don’t know where they find the time today.”

The two new papers — Mr. Krueger’s will be published in the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity and the Stevenson-Wolfers one is still in draft form — are part of a burst of happiness research in recent years. There is no question that the research has its limitations. Happiness, of course, is highly subjective.

A big reason that women reported being happier three decades ago — despite far more discrimination — is probably that they had narrower ambitions, Ms. Stevenson says. Many compared themselves only to other women, rather than to men as well. This doesn’t mean they were better off back then.

But it does show just how incomplete the gender revolution has been. Although women have flooded into the work force, American society hasn’t fully come to grips with the change. The United States still doesn’t have universal preschool, and, in contrast to other industrialized countries, there is no guaranteed paid leave for new parents.

Government policy isn’t the only problem, either. Inside of families, men still haven’t figured out how to shoulder their fair share of the household burden. Instead, we’re spending more time on the phone and in front of the television.

I am not sure that in my lifetime we will see a massive shift in how men and women view housework. The only way that men are going to shoulder their fair share of the household burden is if they grow up seeing their fathers sharing these burdens with their mother. But, obviously, this isn't happening. And, mothers are still imparting to their children gender roles that dictate women manage the household. What women my age seem to have to do is nag their spouses to clean up. In my case it is not that Za is a lazy bastard, but rather his definition of clean is very different from mine. It is impossible, as far as I am concerned, to change this fact. I wish I could live in the same kind of disorder he can, but it drives me completely bat shit crazy, so I have to get him to help me do stuff. Happily, some of it he does without me nagging anymore. But, I doubt we will ever have a nag free situation and I am acutely aware that Maddie will learn that nice home=mother cleaning/managing.

What do y'all think?

UPDATE: Pandagon and Echidne point out why this study is full of shit and the happiness gap doesn't exist.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Now, That's Some Chuztpah!

My WS colleagues have luckily kept me in the loop during my maternity leave on the interesting things happening on campus this semester. A former student of mine just stepped up and bravely called out the Greek life on campus for its blatant sexism. I am so relieved to finally see some bold action here generated by another student. While I have heard plenty of criticisms of Greek life in my office, and even sometimes in classes, rarely do students put themselves out there in such a public way. When they do write op-eds to the paper, like Cassie did, they generally tone down their arguments to be respectful to the feelings of Greek students. Whatever!

Because I am impressed with Cassie's letter and I want to support her indictment of Greek life on my campus, I am posting her op-ed here for my readers:

The Gettysburg College Social Scene through the Eyes of a Woman

I’ve learned some tricks over the years to getting along in the social scene here on campus. Let’s see…First of all, I don’t eat Thursday dinner, and I only have a snack like an orange or a yogurt Friday afternoon. I don’t want to be one of those girls turned away at the door of a party because I’m fat. I remember a sign posted outside a frat that made it so clear: “No Fat Bitches Allowed.” I mean, hello. They put it right out there. If you’re fat, don’t expect to get in. Not everyone can fit into a house at once.
Secondly, don’t bring guys along if you want to get in. There has to be a ratio of 3 girls to every 1 boy, at least. Unless the brothers at the door know the guys. In that case, make sure to bring a token few and you might get in even easier. You have to make sure that if you’re trying to get in with guys of a different frat, they better like each other. A fight or yelling match doesn’t get you in the door.
Also, don’t go out with your ugly friends! I mean, this is about having a good time, right? I remember one time I was so stupid. I was in a co-ed group of friends who were fun and loud, but not the cutest people around. The brothers at the door told us the house was full and we should get the f--- off their driveway immediately. If only I had known to surround myself with prettier people, then I wouldn’t have put them in a situation where they had to be mean.
It’s not always necessary, but at least one girl should have cleavage, and another with a short skirt helps. Not everyone screening at the door judges you on your looks, but better safe than sorry!
Now, if you make it into the door, your next goal is beer of course. There are a few options in this situation: You can send your cutest friend to flirt with the beer-dispensing brother. Make sure she knows to smile and lean over the bar when asking for the cups. She can also act a little bit drunk already so the guy feels in control of the situation. No one wants to deal with a sober woman who demands what she wants!
Now once you’re in and you have your beer, you’re set. Just keep reapplying these rules at each house until you’re sloppy to blackout drunk. (Sometimes a mystery friend will help you speed up this process by dropping a roofie in your drink.) Then go to someone’s room who you don’t care about, sleep with him in order to express your repressed sexuality (but later blame it on the booze, rather than the natural human desire to have sex), take the shame walk home in the morning, have a short cry, and laugh about it with your friends at Servo. Isn’t it fun being a girl at Gettysburg College?

Not satisfied?

Create your own social scene.

Before you get defensive and angry about this article, take a moment. Take a moment to think about if you have ever experienced these things on campus, as my friends or I have first hand. Even if you only observed these situations, you cannot justify letting them perpetuate. I understand not every guy or girl present at frat parties acts like this, but these actions are present on this campus. Let’s change that.

If you agree that social change against sexism is necessary in order to improve our campus, please sign the banner that will be displayed at the Women’s Center CUB table later this week and into the next.
I have written many, many times about how the Greek system and its sexist ways dominate the social scene at my college. Cassie does a good job clarifying what exactly that means in easy to understand examples in her op-ed.

What I predict will happen in response to her letter is a flurry of letters denying the reality of what she is saying. She will be accused of being "judgmental," perhaps of being sexist in her assessment of Greek women. What won't happen is an honest dialogue about how degrading this atmosphere is for women on campus. One thing to always keep in mind when you are evaluating what goes on here on my campus (which is no different from most campuses with a Greek life) is that these women are intellectually superior to the men they degrade themselves for to win a spot in their fraternity house.

My sincere wish is that Cassie gets students like her fired up enough to take back this campus and make it non-coercive, welcoming atmosphere for all.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Enough of the Affirmative Action Debates!

Last week I met with a financial planner to start a college fund for my daughter. While I am a college professor and therefore, my daughter can attend my school for free (a huge benefit), I want to give her the opportunity to attend whatever college she wishes. Well, I wanted to give her that opportunity. What I discovered was that I would have to save $12,000.00 a year to have enough money by the time she turns 18. When you are a college professor, saving $1000.00 a month for your newborn is just plain out of the question.

I am lucky because I can ensure that Maddie will get an excellent college education no matter what. But, this reality check really alerted me to how increasingly unlikely the majority of Americans will be able to afford college tuition for their children. When I asked how much I should set aside for a public university, I was told $500.00 a month. Frightening.

It is wholly clear to me that a college education will be another hurdle separating those with money from those without. Little about higher education will be based on merit when it costs that much to attend. Sure, you could take out student loans for the whole lot, but who on earth would be able to ever pay back that kind of debt? It would be akin to taking out a sub prime jumbo mortgage.

I couldn't help but agree with Jerome Karabel's op-ed in the NYTimes, entitled "The New College Try." (Leave it to a sociologist to demystify the reality of institutions). Karabel's central claim is that what gets Americans into top colleges is not merit, but money. Actually he says socio-economic class. I wonder where I fall in terms of socio-economic class. While I don't make a whole lot of money, I am exceptionally well-educated and therefore likely to pass these class advantages onto my daughter.

Karabel writes:

AMERICANS are committed to the belief that everyone, no matter how humble his origins, has a chance to rise to the top. Our leading colleges and universities play a pivotal role in this national narrative, for they are considered major pathways to power and privilege.

Today, the competition to get into these institutions is at an all-time high, and this has led to serious problems across the socioeconomic spectrum — gnawing and pervasive anxiety among the affluent, underrepresentation among the middle classes and an almost total lack of access among the poor. Changing the situation will take drastic action. Despite their image as meritocratic beacons of opportunity, the selective colleges serve less as vehicles of upward mobility than as transmitters of privilege from generation to generation.

Just how skewed the system is toward the already advantaged is illustrated by the findings of a recent study of 146 selective colleges and universities, which concluded that students from the top quartile of the socioeconomic hierarchy (based on parental income, education and occupation) are 25 times more likely to attend a “top tier” college than students from the bottom quartile.

Yet at least since the 1970s, selective colleges have repeatedly claimed — most recently in amicus briefs submitted to the Supreme Court in the landmark affirmative case concerning the University of Michigan — to give an edge in admissions to disadvantaged students, regardless of race. So it came as a rude shock a few years ago when William Bowen, the former president of Princeton, and his associates discovered, in a rigorous study of 19 selective colleges, that applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds, whether defined by family income or parental education, “get essentially no break in the admissions process.”

The paucity of students from poor and working-class backgrounds at the nation’s selective colleges should be a national scandal. Yet the problem resides not so much in discrimination in the admissions process (though affirmative action for the privileged persists in preferences for the children of alumni and big donors) as in the definition of merit used by the elite colleges. For by the conventional definition, which relies heavily on scores on the SAT, the privileged are the meritorious; of all students nationwide who score more than 1300 on the SAT, two-thirds come from the top socioeconomic quartile and just 3 percent from the bottom quartile.

There is so much that is right on about this argument. First of all, it exposes that "merit" is a lie. When you have debates about affirmative action and very privileged students demand that admission should be based on merit, what they are really arguing--though few of them realize it--is that their class privilege should be protected. Because these students have every advantage working for them to get them into an elite college, they essentially didn't earn their spot, well, at least not in a fair competition from the outset.

Secondly, Karabel points out that the argument that students of color or lower socio-economic class students are not getting an advantage in admissions processes. Despite all the hullabaloo that undeserving students will get a spot at Princeton (i.e. African American or Latino students from poor backgrounds), the reality is that very few of them ever do. Affirmative action seems to be working far more for those with money.

You have to wonder then why affirmative action debates still draw such intensity these days given that these students are not losing their spots educationally and professionally to minority students. In fact, what seems clear is that the divide between the privileged "haves" and the disadvantaged "have nots" is ever widening.

I can't help but think of Za's college. It is one of the few places left that is truly committed to giving disadvantaged students an opportunity to raise themselves up economically and educationally. And yet, his college is teetering on the edge of financial collapse. The endowment is nothing and the school doesn't make up for it in tuition, since it is recruiting students who cannot pay full tuition. These students are excellent, but the college lacks the resources to give them the same quality of education that students at the college next door get.

My deepest hope is that Za's college stays alive; that it beats the odds and continues to make a difference in the lives of its students.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Can Infanticide Ever Be Rational?

I have been engrossed with feminist sociobiologist/anthropoligist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's book, Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection, for the past two weeks. I am almost finished, and I recommend this work to anyone fascinated by the intense and complicated relationship that is motherhood. Hrdy does an excellent job dispelling long-lasting myths that mothering is something wholly selfless, passive, and 'natural' to mothers. While she upholds that there is indeed a 'maternal instinct,' she makes clear that however Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer and a whole host of evolutionary psychologists have described this instinct, i.e. nurturing, self-sacrificing, passive, and without ambivalence--they were not being 'scientific.' Her research unearths the complicated strategies that mother employ to protect their offspring, the trade offs they have to calculate when features of their social world change, the ambivalence mothers can feel toward newborns, and the immense resources from their own bodies that mothering requires. What is the most shocking, yet impeccably documented aspect of her work, is the high rates of infanticide not only among humans (who are the primates most likely to commit infanticide), but throughout the animal world (see this brief article on Hrdy as well as this one by Carl Zimmer at Discover Magazine).

Hrdy argues that part of the explanation for such high rates of infanticide in nature, at the hands of their mothers, includes: the trade offs that mothers must make between their current offspring and a newborn, their future chances of reproducing and a newborn, and their ability to keep their newborn alive. (When males commit infanticide the reasons are slightly different). The idea here is that mothers are acutely aware of what is required of them to keep their child alive and if they do not have the capacity to do so, they will either abandon it, not feed it adequately, etc. Some species have the ability to abort their fetuses if they sense that the time is not right for rearing a new child (e.g. not enough help, food, protection from predators).

I couldn't help thinking of Hrdy's arguments as I came across this story of an 18 year old volleyball player suffocating her newborn news from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Infanticide is always difficult to come to grips with, it is even more so for me now as a new mother. And yet, Hrdy's work forces us to look at this with far more nuance than will likely happen. This young woman who has done what seems unthinkable to her new baby now, might be an excellent mother when she is older and has more resources at her disposal for handling a new child. She is not simply a sociopath.

I was impressed that the NCAA moved to review its guidelines on pregnancy as a response to this sad event. Surely the reasons why Teri Rhodes made the decision to suffocate her child are more complicated than the worry she could not compete in Volleyball. I won't speculate the reasons that led her to this act, but I imagine that they were many and complicated. Perhaps some of the lessons we can learn from the reality of infanticide--both presently and historically--is that women need maximal freedom over their reproductive lives. They need access to resources to help them plan their births, they need education on how to prevent pregnancy, and they need to be able to talk directly, clearly, and without judgment and condemnation to people about sexuality.

Sadly, the opposite arguments are usually made in these cases for infanticide committed by mothers is seen as evidence of their intense pathology. Dr. Larry S. Milner, however, claims:

Statistically, the United States ranks high on the list of countries whose inhabitants kill their children. For infants under the age of one year, the American homicide rate is 11th in the world, while for ages one through four it is 1st and for ages five through fourteen it is fourth. From 1968 to 1975, infanticide of all ages accounted for almost 3.2% of all reported homicides in the United States.

The 1980's followed similar trends. Whereby overall homicide rates were decreasing in the United States, the rate at which parents were killing their children was increasing, In 1983, over six hundred children were reported killed by their parents, and from 1982-1987, approximately 1.1% of all homicides were children under the age of one year of age. When the homicide of a child was committed by a parent, it was the younger age child who was in the greater danger of being killed, while if the killer was a non-parent, then the victim was generally older.

The characterization of the type of parent that is likely to kill their child has changed little over the years. As far back as the middle ages, the children of the poor "Were by far the most common victims of the parental negligence and despair." Today, infanticide is still most commonly seen in areas of severe poverty.

And just as infanticide was described as a crime that was committed by the mother in medieval times, such a likelihood remains true today. Although men are more likely to murder in general, statistical review of prosecutions show that infanticide is usually committed by the mother. When mothers killed their children, however, the victim was usually a newborn baby or younger infant. Some research shows that for murders of children over the age of one year in the United States, white fathers were the perpetrators 10% more often than white mothers, and black fathers 50% more than black mothers.

Other risk factors can include young maternal age, low level of education and employment, and signs of psychopathology, such as alcoholism, drug abuse or other criminal behavior. The most common method of killing children over the ages has been head trauma, strangulation and drowning. Most of the murders today are committed with the use of the mother's hands, either by strangulation or physical punishment.

The pervasiveness of this requires us to think carefully about what it takes to combat infanticide in our country. Hopefully discussions about how institutions and policies affect women will be part of the discussion, as well as how to get resources to new mothers. Raising children requires a lot more than just the 'nuclear' family!

Finally, what Hrdy's work forces us to ponder is whether or not infanticide is actually a rational practice, even if it is abhorrent. I am sure this last claim should invite lots of debate and discussion, so get to it folks!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Disturbing Video of Domestic Violence

Via Pandagon and Echidne alerted me to this video of domestic violence. The husband asks the son to film him verbally and physically abusing his wife because he wants to illustrate why he is justified in his actions. This is seriously disturbing and sadly, all too common of an event in the U.S. For those who want to pretend that there aren't "patriarchies" in this country--watch this video.

A Convert to the Importance of Women's Colleges

Za has been teaching at a small women's college this year. The students are extremely diverse-racially, ethnically, and nationality-wise. Many of these women are coming from very underprivileged backgrounds and are the first-generation in their family to go to college. When Za was putting together his courses, especially for Neurobiology, he did a lot of hand-wringing over which textbook to choose. He didn't want to discourage the students with a textbook that presupposed a lot of preparatory courses, for example. He also worried over the type of assignments he was devising and how well the students would take to them because of the kind of initiative and creativity they demanded.

Well, those fears have decisively been put to rest. His students are engaged, work very hard, and excel. Yesterday I decided to read the blog entries that he is having his Neurobiology students write in response to a Carl Zimmer's The Soul Made Flesh (which is, by the way, a fantastic book). I was absolutely stunned by the work ethic, the seriousness with which his students took the assignment, the willingness to make connections between courses, and the intensity with which the students engage each other. I hate to say this, because I know my students read this blog, but I have never experienced this kind of quality of work--across the board--from my students at a college with a reputation for being much "better" than Za's college. I am not trying to start fights or nothing, but it is a fact.

I spent some time reflecting on why Za's students are so much better and it dawned on me that it has everything to do with his college being a women's college, i.e. no male students. When I think about the work my students often hand in, their struggles to participate in class, to take risks, I am always frustrated because I know they are well educated, smart, and therefore have all it takes to be excellent and to turn class discussions into heated debates. I know they can write well, because all you have to do is give them an F when they hand in something they wrote the night before (to test how hard of a grader you are) and then the next paper will be polished, reflect effort and thought. But, my students--obviously not all of them--don't put forward the best work and effort first. The students who do get pretty discouraged early on in classes when they realized they will be penalized by their peers for participating and getting excited by the material. As I have said many times before, quoting an old article from Harper's Magazine, our students suffer from the "Tyranny of the Cool."

What does this have to do with men, you ask? A few things. First of all, at our college the quality of male students--on average--is much lower than the quality of the female students. This is not unique to our school, but a trend at LACs across the country to maintain "gender parity" which has become of interest to journalists (see here, here, and here for example). The male students, however, have much more social power than the female students, despite the fact that they are often not the intellectual equals. What counts for status is not being smart, but being a jock, a frat guy, and a "playa." The power that these male students have in the classroom is intense. I haven't spent enough time studying this phenomena yet, but after starting to read Peggy Orenstein's School Girls, I am starting to be convinced that male students get more attention from professors, even if they are disruptive. We somehow indulge (yes, I am guilty of this) the jock or frat guy who wants to make wise cracks, who barely does the reading, and nonetheless feels self-possessed enough to dominate the classroom conversation. Meanwhile, we ignore the polite, quiet and less self confident female students who have been fairly demoralized by the campus climate to assert themselves, at least publicly, as smart. Obviously there are exceptions to this very general picture I am painting, but you get the point.

Za's campus is next door to a co-ed university and the two schools share a library. Another faculty member told him that comparing the women's college students to the co-ed college students (women and men), the women's college students were far more assertive, hard working and risk taking. What this also suggests to me is that the "voice" that women find in a women's college isn't dampened after they leave and enter the "real world," rather they have, in the absence of the tyranny of the cool climate at my school, developed into assertive students who won't back down or alter their behavior to be more "attractive" or less threatening to the men.

I have always been ambivalent about women's colleges before seeing first hand how different the students are in this environment. I am now becoming a believer, but the sad truth is that women's colleges are hard to maintain. Not only will they continue to be attacked by folks who want to call them "sexist" in the same way that all male colleges were, but they are not as well endowed. This is concerning since clearly the work they do is very valuable for the students.

What I want to know is how can you achieve this same kind of intellectual atmosphere among male and female students at co-ed institutions? Off the top of my head two things seem necessary: (a) all the students need to be intellectual equals and intellectually curious and (b) the social life should not be dominated by sports teams and Greek life.

What do you all think?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Gender and Emails

Many, many people have noted how the widespread use of email as a form of communication in academia has often created more work for faculty. Others have also noted that the medium of email tends to encourage students to be a lot more informal and even rude toward faculty. What I want to add to this list of concerns is an observation that students tend to use emails to beg off class, work or other obligations. In particular, I have noticed over the years how willing many students are--male and female--to share intimate details about why they are begging off to female faculty.

Today my female colleague got an email from a student begging off class because of a yeast infection. My first reaction was TMI! But, then I started thinking, hey, would she send the same message to SteveG?

When I was a graduate student and taught feminist theory sections, I was confided in more than once by students telling me of the need to get an abortion, or miscarriages. I could never sort out of they were telling the truth or appealing to what they thought would be my sympathetic feminist worldview.

I could be all wrong about this, so I am asking. How many male faculty out there have gotten email messages like the one above to my colleague?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Feminism is not Matriarchy!

C. Ewing sent me a link to this MSN entry on career training entitled "Does 'the Reverse Glass Ceiling Exist?'" My guess is that C. Ewing wanted to see how I reacted to the suggestion that men can face glass ceilings in female-dominated professions. If so, then I will disappoint, since what really interests me about this piece is the discussion of how masculine gender roles push men to take jobs they hate, but think will make more money.

When you see articles that take a well known sexist phenomena and ask if it is happening in the reverse, what underlies such a provocative question is the faulty assumption that feminism is the same thing as matriarchy. Let me explain by first clarifying what patriarchal systems are like. According to anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, patriarchies "monopolize access to the resources women need to rear their young." (245)* The other features of patriarchal societies are the control of female sexuality with the express purpose of determining undisputed paternity, monopolization of resources, aggrandizement of male power, forced dependence on male for subsistence and protection from other males, and the generation of myths that females are passive, submissive, inferior. A patriarchal society can embrace both polygyny and monogamous relationships. Matriarchal societies, then would be the same arrangements, however with women in control versus men. It is unlikely that any such societies have ever existed. The fact that so many anti-feminists mistake feminism with matriarchy is most likely a reflection of their own world-view that sees patriarchy as the norm, and therefore feminism as a homologous ideology that would attempt to invert who rules.

Now that we have settled that, I can move onto what fascinates me most about this entry:

Psychologist Warren Farrell, Ph.D., the San Francisco-based author of such books as Why Men Earn More and The Liberated Man, has a specific take on the equation. "Women enter into those areas [traditional female professions such as nursing, PR, and travel agent] because they are the most fulfilling," he says. "Men don't because they feel they need to take on the responsibility of providing for the family, and the way they earn love is to earn money."
This strikes me as an unfortunate consequence of patriarchy, one that many men would be wise to reevaluate. Patriarchy is certainly not the most stable or best way to ensure you raise children well. I am particularly struck by this psychological hangover of patriarchy haunting men because I see my brother and my father as exemplars of this view. I don't, however, see my husband succumb to this view. And, unfortunately, men who don't see their duty as one of "providing for the family" are chastised by men who do. So, its not enough that you have to deny yourself fulfilling work, but you have to emasculate and taunt men who do, hence furthering your own misery.

The boon of feminism, as I say often, is that it invites men to liberate themselves from the soul crushing ideology of patriarchy. As more women enter traditional male professions and as more laws exist on the books ensuring women's safety and protection, the need for men to concentrate their energy on these tasks if diminished. What is left? Well, they can actually pursue what they love to do, even if it is not rewarded financially as well as the traditional male professions are. Men can share the responsibility of providing for their families with women and even spend more time with children.

Those already doing so are most likely taking a lot of heat, but if more and more men wise up to this, they might just enjoy their lives better, reform institutions to support families, and do what they love.

* Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. 1999. Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection. New York: Pantheon Books.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Study What You Love!

Dean Dad has a really interesting post up reflecting on what those of us who pursued Ph.D.s have internalized as measures of success and why these standards are just plain silly and out of date. He writes:

My words of wisdom, such as they are: go ahead and break the rules. There isn't much payoff in playing by them anymore, and they certainly don't make sense intrinsically. Cross disciplinary boundaries; blog; select topics that are interesting to you; have a kid; have a life; move into and out of administration; contradict or ignore your advisor when he's wrong. The old rules about what you're supposed to do were developed in a world that doesn't exist anymore, and that isn't coming back.
I wanted to riff off his post and think about how this applies to undergraduates as well. This issue really hits me not only because I am a "failure" by standards of my research program, since all Ph.D.'s at Stony Brook were counted as successful iff they landed jobs as research universities. I remember, vividly, graphs and charts that we were forced to look at that demonstrated what choices were likely to land us the coveted research position. The suggestions were certain topics in Philosophy and working with certain faculty. I, of course, totally ignored that advice. Luckily, way before I entered graduate school, an undergraduate professor of mine told me about his difficulty finding a tenure track job after graduating from Northwestern because he had chosen to write on Nietzsche. When I asked him why he picked this topic if it hurt his job chances, he responded, "well, if you are going to spend the rest of your life researching and writing about something, it better be something that interests you."

Though I believe his intention was to dissuade me from going to graduate school as well as to not pick a topic that people don't respect, I drew the opposite lesson. I was going to pursue what I loved to do and study and write about exactly what interested me. I was told multiple times in graduate school, usually by feminist mentors, that I would never get a job in Philosophy doing what I was doing. However, years later, I realize that what they meant was I would never get a job at a research college doing what I was doing. I would end up a "teacher."

Thank god for my blunders. I am now witnessing my husband suffer from the same bullshit. He pursued exactly what he loved as a graduate student, took on a curiosity driven topic without direct application to things like Cancer research, where all the grant money opportunities are. He worked at a very prestigious research institute that encouraged him to take on his high risk research project--high risk because he was not working with a model organism and asking pure science questions. If he lucked out, he could get NIH funding to continue. Lucking out meant that he would discover how his pure science interests would have applications and that he could turn his organism into a model organism. While I would argue that his work demonstrated that he had succeeded on both fronts, his colleagues were less smitten. He went on the job market last year and with the exception of one mediocre research institution, the folks really interested in him were liberal arts colleges (I was not surprised because one of his greatest strengths is creative teaching). When the elite research institute got wind that he had interviewed at liberal arts colleges, they terminated his position since "clearly he was no longer serious about research and so why should they invest any more resources in him."

What is disturbing about this story is that the mission of the institute is to ask pure questions, to educate the public about science, and inspire young children to enter science. But, mission statements are often fluff or outdated. Now Za finds himself in a pickle. The research world doesn't want to take the risk of hiring him since his work would be hard to fund in traditional ways. The teaching college world thinks he is too much of a researcher. It seems that hiring committees don't have a lot of vision, nor are they willing to take risks on a idiosyncratic, creative thinker. Higher ed is pretty risk averse overall.

Given that one's chances for success seem so limited in "traditional ways" if you don't study topics deemed important to funding agencies or considered important by top research programs, it seems crazy to follow Dean Dad's advice. Yet, I believe he is right. And, I believe that my undergraduate professor--albeit not his intention to advise me this way--was right. You should study topics that really interest you, that you get excited about, and that you want to spend your life studying. To do so is to take enormous risks with your employability. But, what is the trade off? If you take the safe route, try to predict what is in vogue, who is the best professor to work with, or what is most likely to get funding, then you might as well just pursue any job.

If you aren't going to follow your passion, which I believe is what makes us really good at what we do, then it seems that what motivates you are things that you can get in much greater doses outside of academia: status and wealth.

How does this apply to undergraduates? I think that the most important thing that undergraduates need to do is take classes that interest them. So many of them choose classes based on who is an easy grader, how much work is involved, how will this help future vocation, etc. The effect of choosing classes this way is that you are never psyched about your education. It becomes totally perfunctory. School is an annoying rite of passage on the way to status or just plain economic security.

As I typed the last sentence, it occured to me that for many people taking courses or a course of study that insures economic security might be a rational and wise choice. But of course, it is a wise choice only so long as the profession you choose is wanted. When economic conditions change, you might find yourself back in school retraining.

For those students not pursuing purely the vocational route, pursuing what excites you is worthwhile. School ceases to be a chore and becomes a delight. I stopped counting how many times former students have emailed me to say that they missed college, were reading voraciously, and kicked themselves for not taking more interesting classes. Of course, taking classes that interests you is immensely risky. You are not styling yourself to be what others want. Instead, you are becoming an independent, creative, risk-taking thinker. You will have to carve your own niche, and that might meant working harder to find the right vocation. But, in the long run, you will be doing what doesn't feel like work, but what gets you excited every morning.

That is my measure for success, despite the advice of my graduate program.

What do the rest of you think?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tween Queens ?!?!?

I was in NC visiting friends this past weekend and discovered this newstory, "Tween Queens," in their local paper, News Record. I am sharing it with you because, well, this sort of thing freaks me out as a new mother.

Retailers have long sought tweens' dollars in the Triad, which boasts brands including Limited Too, Claire's and, of course, the Disney Store. But the local tween market has exploded in recent months, judging from the recent renovation of some longtime stores and the opening of new names including Justice and Club Libby Lu.

And, sorry boys, but the emphasis here is clearly on girls.

Take Libby Lu, where Burlington resident Jennifer Moore took daughter Charlzton shopping on a recent Saturday.

The Chicago-based retailer, which opened its first Triad store at Four Seasons Town Centre last month, launched in 2000. Three years later, it was snapped up by Saks. By the end of this year, the chain, which reported $53 million in sales for 2006, will have 93 stores.

"The whole thing is about truly being a princess," said Branka Zivanovic, who refers to herself as the chain's "district diva." (Fanciful titles pop up across the company, where the head of human resources has been called a "prince of the people," said Nicole Moret, the "fairy godmarketer.")

Libby Lu carries clothing, cosmetics, stuffed Chihuahuas and bath products, but its focus is on makeovers and parties. For between $20 and $35, girls can swap their everyday duds to become DJs, divas, princesses and — best of all, if you ask the tweens — kiddie pop idol Hannah Montana.

Disney entertainment icons such as Montana and the cast of breakaway hit "High School Musical" and its recent sequel are dominating sales at tween stores and shaping the habits of shoppers like 9-year-old Jordan Wescott and her mother.

Missie Wescott brought her daughter and playmate Avery Church to the mall from Pleasant Garden last Saturday for makeovers. While an employee styled her hair, Jordan peered around the mirror and told her mother they needed to book a return appointment for a Montana makeover before the performer's November concert at the Greensboro Coliseum.

Mom concurred, laughing.

"As parents," she said, "we always try to do more for our kids than we had. So when this stuff comes out, we're just as bad as they are."

This last comment really disturbs me. Unfortunately, my daugther will grow up with less than what I had. But, if I were to make more money than my parents did, the last place I would lavish it on her is with baby makeovers.

I am overwhelmed by how how much retailers bombard young children with products that they just have to have. I am annoyed at the ridiculous gendering of this whole diva princess thing as well. In an age where women are achieving more than ever and putting the lie to centuries of patriarchal myth that women are passive, beautiful and frivolous, marketers want to sell this vapid image of femininity to 2-12 year olds. Can you believe how much money they make doing this?

I am shooting my television.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

How Convenient to Always Blame the Individual

While getting my oil changed the other day, I overheard someone say: "you know blaming the mortgage bankers and brokers for this subprime disaster is like blaming McDonald's for fat people."

I couldn't disagree more with this kind of analysis, wherein the "consumer" is wholly to blame for bad choices. The fact is that a choice is only meaningful if you have full information about what you are buying. But the subprime mortgage scandal is problematic for a whole lot of other reasons that people signing bad mortgage contracts or borrowing more than they can pay. The companies that made lots and lots of money originating these loans and then selling them off to Hedge Fund managers or making them available as securities in other ways are to blame as well.

The desire to make a hearty profit certainly creates incentives for companies to exploit the less educated consumer. Anyone who saw SuperSize Me should have a hard time thinking that the obesity problem in this country is the result of individuals making "bad choices." When you have a huge corporation trying to hook in young children as consumers from an early age, when you have schools serving fast food for lunches, and when you hide the nutritional information from the consumer, well, you get an obesity epidemic.

The subprime mortgage collapse is similar. You have eager mortgage lenders offering tantalizing deals to people who want a piece of the American Dream: home ownership. You don't have full disclosure of the terms and the lender just wants to get that mortgage signed so they can quickly sell it off as a security. They don't care about how likely a borrower is to make good on his or her payments. They won't be keeping the loan. The riskier the loan, the better for those hedge fund managers. High risk=High reward. And to make that profit, you need to exploit either the uneducated, the desperate, or the greedy.

What do you all think?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Technology is Running My Life!

So I lost my cell phone somewhere in my house last week and went batty trying to find the damn thing. The battery had died, so I couldn't call the phone. I checked every room, every reasonable and odd place it might be (including going through the trash since I have mommy brain) and couldn't find that damn phone. I am telling you this story not so much to kvetch about losing my phone, but to share with you my meta-reflections on this incident. You see, the fact that I lost my phone created a kind of interruption in my life that seems odd.

All of the phone numbers that I need to call are programmed on the phone. I don't have long distance in my house, so I can't call people outside of my county unless I have my cell phone. And, I had no way to coordinate plans with Za, while running errands, without my cell. How has this tiny object, which used to be a luxury!, become so absolutely necessary to the functioning of my life. When I was in high school in the 80s, my Dad had a cell phone, which was always a sort of status symbol. He had this phone because he was a physician and it made it easier to respond quickly when he was on call.

Now, everyone--including their 6 year old--has a cell phone. It is hard to find public phones. Using land lines exclusively requires one to really plan things in advance well, since any mess ups are hard to fix if you don't have cell phones to find each other and change plans. I even find myself using my cell phone to call friends when I have gotten split up with them in the shopping mall. It is bizarre how quickly we assimilate new technology and make it essential to our daily lives.

Lately I have been trying to figure out how to cut monthly expenses--new daughter and all! I am struck by how emotionally difficult this is. Should I get rid of my cell phone? Should I get rid of our wireless connection at home? All of these decisions seem to render us dysfunctional. Without wireless, much of the work that Za and I do would suffer. More and more teaching is spilling over to emails and online software. Without a connection at home, we would have to either stay in the office longer, or go to a cafe and pay for service or at least a meal to earn the right to surf the web. If we give up our cell phones, then well, I am in that panic created by losing my cell phone last week.

And yet, none of these things were at all necessary to my life when I was in college and grad school. What is even weirder is to think that I never used a computer for school work until I was 18. My family didn't even own one. Technological innovations totally restyle our lives in ways that are expensive, that make us more forgetful, and perhaps lazy.

More importantly, it is clear to me how hard it is for us to be patient anymore. My daughter will never know what it is like to communicate with childhood friends via mail. She will not have to wait until a program she wants to watch is on TV again, because she can download it anytime. She will have no concept of not being able to easily call a friend living abroad because the cost is too prohibitive. She will most likely never write a paper, a letter, or a poem out by hand.

And, what drives me crazy now in wait time on the internet will seem like an eternity when she gets to be a teenager. The whole world is speeding up and we are unable to sit still and do nothing.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Why There Aren't Many Women in Philosophy

While I am recommending some interesting papers for MMF readers to take a look at, I thought I would mention Sally Haslanger's paper, "Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy: Not by Reason (Alone)," which you can access in pdf format from her website. I have certainly discussed the difficulties of women in Philosophy before on this blog, but I think I was not as brave as Haslanger in pointing out the bullshit. I have often remarked to my colleagues that I think the climate in Philosophy is more hostile to women than the hard sciences. I think that this sort of sexism is particularly bad in Analytic Philosophy circles. There is plenty of crap in Continental circles, which is my specialty, but for whatever reason it seems that Continental departments have done a better job incorporating women and people of color than the leading Analytic departments have.

Moreover, Continental Philosophy is better at embracing Feminist and Race theory than Analytic. The most overtly sexist comments that I ever received from other Philosophers were always from Analytics. One, which I have talked about before, came from my Metaphysics professor in college who claimed that women were not well-suited for Philosophy. Many others I endured from an ex-boyfriend (before I wised up!), who was a student a UPenn. He spent hours pointing out to me how Feminist theory (my field) was quite simply not Philosophy and he said that only one woman out of all the women who ever presented at his grad program was capable of making an argument, even though it was not a compelling one.

Haslanger writes:

The situation for women in philosophy has been changing over the past several decades and every woman’s experience is different. I was in graduate school at Berkeley between 1979-1985. I have held tenure-track or tenured positions in five schools. I am now a full professor. But the rank of full professors is broad and there are many women, such as my wonderful colleague Judith Thomson, who came through in an era in which the situation was very different from and, to my mind, much worse than mine. So there has been progress. However, that there are trends that have continued throughout my time in the profession, because I see evidence of them today.

Why there aren’t more women of my cohort in philosophy? Because there were very few of us and there was a lot of outright discrimination. I think a lot of philosophers aren’t aware of what women in the profession deal with, so let me give some examples. In my year at Berkeley and in the two years ahead of me and two years behind me, there was only one woman each year in a class of 8-10. The women in the two years ahead of me and the two years behind me dropped out, so I was the only woman left in five consecutive classes. In graduate school I was told by one of my teachers that he had “never seen a first rate woman philosophy and never expected to because women were incapable of having seminal ideas.” I was the butt of jokes when I received a distinction on my prelims, since it seemed funny to everyone to suggest I should get a blood test to determine if I was really a woman. In a seminar in philosophical logic, I was asked to give a presentation on a historical figure when none of the other (male) students were, later to learn that this was because the professor assumed I’d be writing a thesis on the history of philosophy. When I was at Penn as a junior faculty member and told a senior colleague that I was going to be married (to another philosopher, Stephen Yablo, then at UM), his response was, “Oh, I’m so sorry we’ll be losing you.” This was in 1989.

I mention these anecdotes (and there are many more) not in order to gain sympathy, or because they are especially egregious, but because this sort of thing still happens all the time. When I was at the University of Michigan in the mid-90’s there were three consecutive graduate student classes with no women. When this was raised as an issue, the majority of faculty hadn’t even noticed it. In many departments women find themselves solos on faculties or in graduate school cohorts. Virtually all minorities in philosophy find themselves solos. Surviving as a solo is a painful and difficult process I’ll discuss more below.

Moreover, blatant discrimination has not disappeared. I’ve witnessed plenty of occasions when a woman’s status in graduate school was questioned because she was married, or had a child (or took time off to have a child so was returning to philosophy as a “mature” student), or was in a long-distance relationship. For some reason, this never seems to be an issue for men. I know many women who have interests and talents in M&E who have been encouraged to do ethics or history of philosophy. I’ve been contacted as recently as this year by graduate student women’s groups and individual women to help them strategize about problems they are facing as women in their programs, problems that include alleged sexual harassment, hostile or chilly climate, and various sorts of unfairness. I am contacted by Deans who are reevaluating tenure decisions of women (and minorities) to comment on norms and practices in philosophy that seem to have disadvantaged the tenure candidate in question. And I never cease to be amazed.
My point here is that I don’t think we need to scratch our heads and wonder what on earth is going on that keeps women out of philosophy. In my experience it is very hard to find a place in philosophy that isn’t actively hostile towards women and minorities, or at least assumes that a successful philosopher should look and act like a (traditional, white) man. And most women and minorities who are sufficiently qualified to get into grad school in philosophy have choices. They don’t have to put up with this mistreatment. Many who recognize that something about choices is relevant have explained to me that women choose not to go into philosophy because they have other options that pay better or have more prestige. This may be true for some, but this doesn’t sound like the women I know who have quit philosophy (and it sounds a lot more like the men I know who have quit). Women, I believe, want a good working environment with mutual respect. And philosophy, mostly, doesn’t offer that.
Haslanger then proceeds to give an account for why this overt and more subtle sexism and racism remains in place in Philosophy by turning to the work of Virginia Valian, specifically her book Why So Slow?:The Advancement of Women. Valian introduces the notion of gender schemas (which works for race as well) that operate as powerful unconscious biases. They are not as overt as stereotypes. Valian defines schemas as:

a mental construct that, as the name suggests, contains in a schematic or abbreviated form someone’s concept about an individual or event, or a group of people or events. It includes the person’s or group’s main characteristics, from the perceiver’s point of view, and the relationship among those features.” (Valian 1998, 104).
When we use schemas, we tend to interpret the actions, behaviors of other or make predictions about others in ways that are consistent with our schemas. The schemas of women and minorities in Philosophy are exceptionally damaging. The only way to overcome this kind of deep bias is to make these schemas explicit and change them.

I think the insight that I like best in Haslanger's paper is how combative and aggressive the atmosphere in Philosophy is. She writes:

As feminist philosophers have been arguing for decades, the familiar dichotomies with which Anglophone philosophy defines itself map neatly onto gender dichotomies, e.g., rational/emotional, objective/subjective, mind/body; ideals of philosophy, e.g. penetrating, seminal, rigorous, and what we do, e.g., attack, target, demolish an opponent, frame it as masculine and in opposition to the feminine (my emphasis).
I highlighted the words that really resonate with my experience and what I have never loved the way many male philosophers behave. Giving a paper at the APA, especially if the room is packed with Analytic philosophers, is like a death match. I have only had to endure this once when I was sharing the panel with a well-known Analytic Philosopher. The goal is not to help make sense of the argument, explore the argument, and see if it helps us get closer to understanding about some phenomena. The goal, for the audience, is to leave you bloody and eviscerated. Look for the weaknesses of the argument and bring the whole thing down, rather than help the author shore up those weaknesses. Professional philosophy is a "winner-take-all" contest.

I don't know how effectively or quickly one can change these social norms, but I am all for it. I have never understood what added value this behavior has. Some philosophers consider it "rigor," but I just think their assholes.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Working Moms Really Good for Daughters, Less So for Sons?

I had to take a break from blogging after last week's blow out. But, I am back today with something worth debating or, better yet, speculating about. First some background about how I came to discover an interesting study on the effect of working mothers on the the socioeconomic attainment of daughters and sons. Alessia called me up Friday to let me know that she rediscovered an old friend from graduate school. She read to me a passage that he had written about her--discussing the complicated relationship between race, ethnicity and class. The author's name was Dalton Conley. I thought I recognized that name--maybe I taught one of his articles in Intro. to WS?--and so Alessia and I googled him. This led me to his very impressive home page at NYU.

Here is where I discovered one of his working papers, co-authored with Karen Albright from UC Berkeley, entitled "The Effect of Maternal Labor Market Participation on Adult Sibling's Outcomes: Does Having a Working Mother Lead to Increased Gender Equality in the Family." You can access the paper here (I don't know how to link a Pdf file to a blog post, anyone?) I couldn't resist talking about this paper here since of course I am not only intellectually interested in the effect of working mothers on their children's socioeconomic outcomes, but I am personally interested.

The abstract reads as follows:

This paper contributes to the literature on the effects of maternal labor market participation by examining the impact of having a working mother on sons’ and daughters’ educational and occupational attainment as adults. Our data suggest that brothers and sisters are more likely to experience equal educational and occupational attainment if they come from families with mothers who were employed outside the home, rather than mothers who were homemakers. Further, daughters of working mothers are more likely to achieve greater educational and occupational success than are daughters of homemakers. However, the pattern is more complex for sons of working mothers, who are less likely than sons of homemakers to achieve certain measures of educational and occupational attainment. These results are discussed in light of the effects of differential gender investment and of differential gender role expectations. (my emphasis).

I read through the paper--I won't admit to having studied it thoroughly--but enough to get a sense of why sons are less likely to achieve "certain measures of educational and occupational attainment." When the authors discuss their findings they explain:

While approximately the same percentage of sons in both types of families failed to earn a bachelors degree (45.2 percent in families with working mothers, compared to 47.8 percent in families with homemaker mothers), the college attainment of sons of working mothers was almost double that of sons of homemakers (35.5 percent to 17.4 percent). However, this pattern was reversed for postgraduate27 education: the attainment of a postgraduate degree of working mothers’ sons was 19.3 percent, compared to 34.8 percent of homemaker mothers’ sons . . .Similar to the patterns observed in siblings’ educational attainment, sons of working mothers in our sample experienced less occupational success than did the male offspring of homemaker mothers, according to the measure we employ here. (my emphasis)

Daughters of working mothers, however, were often the most educated sibling in the family. So, what's going on here? Earlier in their paper, the authors mention many studies that show a preference for sons, that fathers spend more time with sons, that families spend more money if they have sons, so you would think that sons might have greater professional and educational success than daughters even in families where mothers work.

One of the explanations put forward was that while resources (financial, educational and emotional) were distributed evenly between siblings, nonetheless, the mother encouraged their daughters' success even more than their sons. The idea is that mothers wanted to prepare their daughters for the unfair gender biases in favor of men once they enter the workforce.

Secondly, the authors find that while both children are expected to carry out chores in families with working mothers, that the division of labor was gendered so women did "inside" chores, while men did "outside" chores.

"Dividing the spheres of boys’ and girls’ expertise in this way sometimes had the unintended result of encouraging behavior in girls that was less rambunctious, and more easily translatable to scholarly pursuits (e.g., reading, etc.), while boys’ physical responsibility sometimes placed them in a sphere far removed from activities that might encourage educational achievement."

Thirdly, in families where the mother stayed at home, resources were lavished more on sons at the expense of daughters. This differential investment might be explained as follows: the sons will have to be the sole breadwinner in their families when they grow up. Hence, what you have here is the transmission of very traditional gender roles in families with a stay-at-home mother.

The second explanation for the findings seems the most interesting and perhaps controversial. I can imagine that this paper, if it makes it into the public debates about why boys are falling behind educationally, will (a) lead to greater outcries against women working outside the home, i.e. feminist bashing and (b) lead to more condemnations of the institutional expectations of education, i.e. quiet and less rambunctious behavior.

What I am curious about then is whether or not boys in families with stay-at-home mothers are expected to do any chores? If not, how does that help them develop more scholarly habits?

In any case, this paper is quite interesting and much of it confirms my unscientific intuitions that working outside the home will have positive benefits for my daughter. What do you think?