There is an interesting comment thread over at Feministe about "false consciousness." I have never actually heard a feminist use the term "false consciousness."  I imagine that this term is most frequently used by Marxist feminists, since "false consciousness" is a concept associated with Marxism.  The general idea (and I do not claim to have a nuanced understanding of the matter) is that people can be misled by the dominant ideology (the common set of beliefs and values taken for granted in their society) to act or think in ways contrary to their best interests without necessarily even realizing it.   

Like a lot of Americans, I automatically recoil when I hear the term "false consciousness."  It sounds authoritarian.  It sounds like an excuse for those who believe they know the "truth" to impose their will on those who are supposedly laboring under delusions.  It sounds like a reason not to have to engage in debate or dialogue; one can simply dismiss one's opponents by saying they have "false consciousness."  Part of the problem, of course, is the idea's association with Marxism, which automatically makes us think of totalitarian states like the U.S.S.R. and China and North Korea, in which repression and authoritarianism for the common good were seen as the solution to capitalist excesses. And if there is one value that I hold dear, it is that I am quite capable of deciding what is best for myself, as is every other average citizen out there. 

But suppose we strip away the unsavory connotations of "false consciousness."  Let us further accept that every adult human being's right to self-determination should be respected, regardless of sex or background or educational level or mental impairment, and regardless of whether we believe that human being is acting in accordance with his or her best interests.  I would assert that there is value in recognizing that people do not always see the ways in which societal institutions or assumptions may hurt them or hurt the class of people to which they belong.  This is particularly true of women because our culture is rife with all sorts of assumptions about women which inure to our detriment -- assumptions about our essential nature (including the assumption that there even is an essential feminine nature), our capabilities, our proper role, and our relationship with men. 

You're probably not ever going to catch me using the term "false consciousness." And you are certainly never going to catch me saying that women, or any other types of individuals, are somehow incapable of identifying their own interests and acting to further them.  I often do, however, see instances when women will buy into a paradigm or set of sexist assumptions that I believe are either not good for them as individuals or are not good for women in general.  But rather than write off the instances I have observed with the one-size-fits-all explanation of "false consciousness," I believe there a number of explanations for this phenomenon:

--  Unquestioned assumptions:  Often assumptions about gender are so ingrained and so much a part of the fabric of our culture that we simply take them for granted without questioning whether these assumptions are correct or whether these assumptions hurt us.  This was even more true in the past.  Thus, my mother was well into adulthood before she questioned her family's assumption that she did not need a college education like her brother; nor did she question societal expectations that the only appropriate careers for women were teaching, nursing, and secretarial work.  Today, I have met many women who have never questioned the assumption that parenting -- at least its day-to-day nuts and bolts aspect -- is primarily a female responsibility.  I am sure there are numerous other examples.

-- Failure to recognize external constraints upon our ability to make free choices. This is, I suppose, a subset of the concept of unquestioned assumptions, but it is worth a special mention since the notion of "choice feminism" has been hotly debated in recent months.  A lot of women may say, "It was my choice to do x or y."  That may well be true.  But sometimes (and before you start yelling at me, I said sometimes, not always), women do not recognize constraints or limitations that do not apply to men and that may drive, at least in part, the decisions they make.  So Jane's choice to stay home with her kids may have been her preference and her decision.  But she may not be recognizing the fact that her decision was driven in many ways by societal factors that affect her differently than her husband.  Like the fact that everyone around her expects her and not her husband to be the children's primary caretaker.  Or the fact that mothers often face doubts among bosses and colleagues about their commitment to their work in a way that men and childless women do not.  Or the fact that a man who takes time off from work to be a stay-at-home-dad is stigmatized in a way a woman is not.  Or the fact that a woman is likely to make less money than her husband.  And on and on. 

--  Internalized attitudes one holds even while recognizing that they are wrong.  Even the most staunch feminist might have terrible body image or have trouble ridding herself of the notion that she automatically bears greater responsibility for housework than her male partner.  No matter how much we may question and critique our cultural assumptions they may continue to have an emotional hold on us that may be hard to shake.  Thus, on one level a woman might recognize that her inherent worth does not hinge on her dress size or the attractiveness of her figure-- but on another level that woman might have trouble shaking the feeling that she is less than worthy as a human being if she is anything but model-thin.  Our rational thinking alone may not be sufficient to overcome beliefs with which we have lived since birth. 

-- Women who have different values.  Many women may recognize that they are in a subordinate position but accept it because they do not value social equality.  A woman may believe that God has mandated a subordinate role for women in the home and in society.  She may not feel any urge to protest that subordination because she believes that whatever God has mandated is good by definition.  Such a woman's belief (wrong though I think it is) is not necessarily the product of unquestioned assumptions.

-- Out-and-out disagreement about what harms us and what doesn't.  Reasonable adults can disagree.  Here I differ from the traditional conception of "false consciousness" because I recognize that a person may have thought through all the issues, examined all of her assumptions, and simply reached different conclusions than I have.  For example, there are feminists who think that high heels are contrary to the equality and dignity of women.  I don't.  It's not that I have failed to consider the issue.  It's not that I have internalized an irrational belief that I must wear high heels. I have thought about it and I just don't have a problem with high heels.  On the other hand other women may disagree with what I consider obvious truths about what is contrary to women's dignity, welfare, and equality of opportunity.  Even though I think the women with whom I disagree are wrong, I am capable of recognizing that they may have considered the issue.   

-- Women who are differently positioned than the rest of us.  Many women are rewarded for taking anti-feminist positions.  Anti-feminist women writers and pundits like Caitlin Flanagan or Carrie Lukas or Ann Coulter are not acting contrary to their best interests when they loudly opine that a woman's place is in the home, or constantly use derogatory terms like "girl soldier," etc. etc. Anti-feminism is, in fact, these women's bread and butter. Similarly, someone like Paris Hilton, who revels in being a walking stereotype of woman-as-vapid-sexbot, is riding a tidal wave to more fame and more fortune for doing so.  Other women may not be so overtly anti-feminist but they may underestimate the power of sexism in our culture because it has not affected them or held them back in any way they can perceive, or any way at all.  Upper middle class white professional women like me can easily fall into this category. It is easy for us to take for granted the accomplishments of feminists who came before us, and it is easy for us not to see why certain issues are important (like my younger self's failure to see why the right to an abortion is important.). 

In sum, "false consciousness" as a concept may have use, even a great deal of use.  Certainly "consciousness raising" sessions among feminists in the '60s and '70s were a valuable exercise for women working through the myriad ways in which they had taken for granted their own subordination or failed to recognize ways in which the values and institutions with which they lived were operating contrary to their best interests.  On the other hand, "false consciousness" should never be treated as a one-size-fits-all response to everyone who disagrees with feminist ideas or with one's particular feminist view point.***

*** NOTE:  I suspect that the notion of "false consciousness" is rarely, if ever, used by feminists in this manner, despite the protestations of those who enjoy attacking strawfeminists.  In fact, as the Feministe comments thread makes clear, many, if not most, feminists are (like me) uncomfortable with invoking the notion of "false consciousness" at all.


My basic reaction to the development of drugs that suppress menstruation is:  "WHOO-HOO! Where can I get some?"  As I mentioned in my last post, I don't quite understand the notion of a woman wanting to continue to menstruate 12 times a year when she doesn't have to.  With perfect timing, Rachel at Alas, A Blog posted an excellent, well thought out piece outlining her reasons for "want[ing] her period," focusing primarily on her concern that menstruation will be (more than ever) framed as abnormal, bad, or gross.  In part she is worried that encouragement of this view will reinforce the phenomenon of women feeling shame about their bodies and that women will be pressured/encouraged into taking menstruation suppressents in order to reach some ideal of sexual attractiveness regardless of the potential consequences for their health (given that the long term health effects of menstruation suppressents are not well known). 

I think these are valid concerns.  But no matter how you slice it, menstruation, while nothing to be ashamed of, is inconvenient.  It is something that must be addressed several times a day, and in the middle of the night, for approximately one week every month. If I don't have to do it, I don't wanna. For many women, it is accompanied by discomfort or pain.  Here is what I said in the comments section at Alas:

I think you are absolutely right to be leery of how this thing is going be marketed and treated in our culture. I can absolutely see it being treated like something women should do to make themselves more sexually appealing to men, regardless of the consequences for the women. And I can see that kind of reinforcing all sorts of damaging notions. I can also imagine a class divide by which menstruation will become associated with poorer women who can’t afford this medication.

But unlike many other things that women are encouraged to do for the sake of sex appeal (such as undergoing plastic surgery or wearing spike heels), this one has the potential to make our lives much easier (assuming that this drug is safe over the long term).

To me, this medication has always been linked to the idea of my convenience and my control. I am not ashamed of my period or grossed out by my period. But I do find it inconvenient. And that’s a good enough reason for me to hope that the Pharma folks get cracking on studying the potential health effects. My body exists for my pleasure and convenience and anything that can enhance those two things safely is a net positive in my book!


If there is one thing I find annoying in our culture, it is all the jokiness surrounding PMS.  Women joke about it constantly and so do men. The thrust of the jokes is that it is to be expected that women will turn into raving lunatics once a month.

Of course, if you look around you, in your office, your church, or any groups to which you belong, you will find that there is no particular percentage of women behaving like lunatics at any given time.

I have tried to do a little bit of research on PMS in order to write this post but the information I have found on the web is diverse and confusing.  PMS doesn’t seem to be an especially well-defined or well-understood condition.  Thus, PMS is susceptible to all sorts of prejudices.  As with any area in which women differ from men, people are inclined to leap to all sorts of generalizations based on what they think they know about the matter.  These generalizations and prejudices generally inure to the detriment of women, natch.  So when considering PMS, it is best to proceed with caution (and never ever ever ever ever for the love of God say to a woman, “You’re just saying that because it’s your time of the month.”)  Here is what I think I know:

First of all, PMS is not universal. I did not experience PMS until I hit 30.  Some women never experience it at all.

Secondly, PMS is not necessarily severe.  In fact, I would submit that the vast majority of cases are not at all severe.  The symptoms I have experienced over the last five years are some achiness in the legs for a couple of hours before my period begins.

Thirdly, PMS symptoms are diverse.  They include depressed mood, bloating, headaches, cramps, and many, many other possible symptoms. Individuals experience very different combinations of symptoms.  PMS does not necessarily affect mood.  I have never perceived any alteration of my mood connected to my menstrual cycle. What one woman means when she says she has PMS may be very different from what another woman means.

Fourthly, some women do experience very severe and debilitating symptoms.  Women who report such symptoms should be taken seriously. Being in so much pain once a month that you are throwing up is a medical condition.

Fifthly, PMS does not involve the suspension of rationality.  Just because a particular woman might be teary during this time does not mean she is unable to function, make intelligent decisions, and remain responsible for her actions.

Sixthly, women have done all sorts of things while menstruating.  We have run marathons, ruled nations, tried cases, flourished in higher education, fought in combat, continued with primary caretaking responsibility for our children, and pretty much engaged in every other human endeavor under the sun.

Seventh, despite the unpleasantness associated with PMS, a lot of women are glad that they menstruate.  A lot of women have expressed discomfort with the notion of reducing the frequency of their periods by medication that is now available.  (Of course, I find this attitude a bit tough to understand.  I intend to get my grubby little paws on those pills as soon as possible. Less muss and less fuss! Besides, reducing the frequency of menstruation reduces the risk of ovarian cancer-- though there are surely other potential risks and side effects of this medication.)


From the New York Times:

“When I think of the word slut,” wrote Don Reisinger, a student doing accounting and law work in Albany, in an e-mail message, “I think of a woman who has been around the block more times than my dad’s Chevy. I might date a slut, but I certainly wouldn’t marry one.”

Yawn.  "I might date a slut, but I certainly wouldn’t marry one.”  If I only had a nickel for every time over the years that I have heard a young man smugly make this statement when the issue of the sexual double standard is raised.  It never fails to amaze me how oblivious these guys are to how ridiculous they sound.  And I never fail to get a kick out of their tone of lordly magnanimity.  Gee, Don, we sluts are ever so grateful for your broadmindedness even if you draw the line at marrying us.   

Or as Amanda noted: 

The NY Times article has a solid display of the double standard as expressed by this slut who’s confident of his future chance at getting a non-slut to lavish her love and selfless sex hatred on his slutty self.

And, by the way, I am not quite as generous as you, Don.  I would never date or marry someone who would judge my worth based on how many sexual partners I have had or how soon into a relationship I have sex.


I am past due to update my blogroll.  Some of the blogs in my blogroll have moved and I have some cool new ones to add -- but I am not only a happy feminist, but a lazy one too, and I just haven't gotten around to fixing things.

But meanwhile, do head over to visit Moi at Sidebar.  She is changing the focus of her blog from just life as an associate in a law firm to a feminist blog regarding issues faced by professional women.  She is an engaging writer so do pop over and welcome her to the feminist blogosphere!


I love Salon's Broadsheet.  I have noticed, however, that the vast majority of the reader comments seem hostile to the ideas expressed at Broadsheet and to feminism in general.  As another commenter over there today observed, a lot of the letters have a somewhat misogynist tone.

I have never commented there before, but today I left a couple comments regarding their post about a British police department's jokey campaign to get women to stop binge drinking in public.

Salon has an enormous readership (at least judging from the huge number of hits I got when they linked me once!) so I think it's not a bad idea for us feminists who comment a lot on blogs to counter some of the anti-feminist sentiments in the Broadsheet comments section. 


In my last post, I observed that in the reality show “The Girls Next Door,”  Barbi Benton, Hugh Hefner’s 50-something ex-girlfriend, snarked about the extreme youth of his current crop of three girlfriends, the oldest of whom is almost fifty years younger than he is.  Tango Man commented, Yeah, that female beauty and youth privilege thing can be hard to give up.  It is unclear what specific “privileges” Tango Man may have been referring to in Benton’s case.  The privilege of being Hefner’s temporary girlfriend?  Whoop-di-doo.

It sticks in my craw when men talk about some alleged “power” or “privilege” young attractive women have by virtue of their youth and beauty.  Are young and beautiful women sometimes treated favorably?  Absolutely.  But this isn’t “power,” nor is it privilege of any lasting or reliable sort.

When I was in my 20s, I constantly got pulled over for speeding without ever once getting a ticket.  I have frequently been told that the cops probably didn’t ticket me because I was young and cute (and white, but that’s not the issue here).  Was I glad to not get a ticket?  Sure!  But the power in these situations was always in the hands of the male cops who pulled me over.  They got to decide whether they deemed me attractive enough to exercise their power and discretion to let me off the hook for speeding.

What advantages did I gain during the years when I was at my most “attractive”?  People were often nicer to me than to supposedly less attractive people.  People may have been more likely to hire me or date me.  Teachers and police officers may have been inclined to give me a break.  But again, while these may have been pleasant advantages, all the real power in a given situation was in the hands of those who chose to treat me in a particular way based on my looks.  All that stuff plus $2.00 will get me a cup of coffee.

Some women have parlayed their beauty into actual power and control.  But a famous model is not powerful because she is beautiful but rather because of the money or status in the entertainment industry which she has acquired by selling her beauty.

In reality, the supposed “power” and “privilege” enjoyed by beautiful women are merely fleeting advantages that are entirely dependent on the goodwill and subjective opinion of others (usually men), and are likely to disappear once the woman grows older, or gains weight, or becomes ill.    Me -- I’d  prefer the privilege of being able to buy three handsome 20-something boyfriends to live entirely at my beck and call when I’m 80.


--  Duh.  Forgot to mention that Clare at Ink and Incapability has put together yet another kick ass Carnival of Feminists -- including a couple of controversial posts. (These links are to posts about the controversies, not the controversial posts themselves.)

-- Gahh.  This kind of thing drives me nuts. Dr. Helen believes that women should not "flash their tits" on the internet without repercussions.  I guess sexual expression by women MUST be punished.  Not sure why.  Just because, I guess.  Dr. Helen apparently also believes that "women" need some lesson in personal responsibility that "men" already understand.  Zuzu at Feministe and Amanda at Pandagon are all over it.  (And for the record, I am not condoning whatever threat was made to Jeff Goldstein's toddler.  I have tried following all the links but can't quite get to the bottom of what Deb Frisch said exactly and in what context.  But whatever it was, creepy comments about people's kids are bad regardless of who is making them-- obviously.)

UPDATE:  Dr. Helen offers this defense in her comments thread:

I have nothing against boob-flashers myself and frankly, think it's fine. What I object to and should have made more clear in my post is that the boob flasher in this case is Diane York Blaine, a professor, who is upset with conservatives, saying they are out to get her etc. as she dares to expose herself and her tits. However, the reality seems to be that she discriminates against men and is in the classroom preaching that all men are pigs and complicit in rape and when others call her on this--she then seems not to be able to deal with it and obviously thinks her "cute" antics with her boobs make her free. In other words, she thinks that because she is a woman, she can get away with this outrageous behavior. Imagine the reverse--a male professor says all women are sluts in class--than shows his penis on his website and thinks no one should hold him accountable.

Still scratching my head about why the tit-flashing is the issue rather than the claimed discrimination.

--  Read this amazing post by Lisa at Feminist Mormon Housewives about her journey from orthodoxy to a more liberal outlook-- and how she reconciled that liberalism with her religious belief.  I love Feminist Mormon Housewives.  These are some bright women.

-- OK, I'll admit it.  As I have been zoning out on Sunday nights, I have been finding myself watching "The Girls Next Door," the reality show about the lives of Hugh Hefner's three "girlfriends" at the Playboy Mansion in L.A.  Recent highlights include a visit from Hefner's ex-girlfriend of many years, Barbi Benton, now in her 50s, who kept making snarky comments about the extreme youth of Hefner's current crop (ranging in age from 20 to 31) -- and current head girlfriend Holly's sort-of-triumphant-sort-of-nervous commentary to the effect that she and her co-girfriends are young NOW and have "Hef" NOW.  This week, the girlfriends took a day trip, and kept reassuring the camera that "Hef" was OK with their absence.  Head girlfriend Holly continually called "Hef" to check in (greeting him with baby talk: "Hiiiiii Pufffin!") and fretted that some other "girl" would swoop in to take "Hef" the moment she was gone.  Apparently, there have been prior instances when a girlfriend has been replaced after making the mistake of leaving Hef's side for a day. Also check this out:

For Hef's girlfriends, there are some rules to follow. You aren't just dating one of the most charming and powerful men in the world, you're part of Hef's image as a public figure and corporate icon. Therefore Holly, Kendra and Bridget have a 9 p.m. (okay, 9 p.m.-ish) curfew if they are out without Hef. So, if they're in, say, Vegas, without him, they better hope the private jet makes good time.

Say it with me all at once: Ewwwwwwwww.

--  My grandmother and her son (my uncle) are having an on-going feud about FDR.  My libertarian/conservative uncle who wishes he could tote his antique guns in his holster around L.A. likes to rage on about how FDR ruined the country.  My grandmother with some passion rails in response that my uncle just doesn't understand what the Depression was really like and that FDR "literally saved people's lives."

-- One of the worst things about extreme old age is having people talk to you like you're five.  My 90-year-old grandmother is completely with it mentally. She is up on politics, thinks Jon Stewart is "cute," and still cooks, cleans, manages her own finances, and thinks no differently than your average 40 year old. She just walks really slowly, has trouble reading for extended lengths of time, and refrains from driving.  Yet my aunt persists in speaking to my grandmother with exaggerated step-by-step explanations of basic things and always seem assumes that my grandmother doesn't understand what's going on.  Agatha Christie had one of the best takes on this phenomenon in her Miss Marple series in which people constantly made the mistake of dismissing brilliant old-lady-detective Miss Marple as "an old pussycat."

-- My grandmother in a way has a good set up by which she lives in her very own apartment attached to my aunt and uncle's house.  It has its own kitchen and laundry facilities so in many ways she is self-sufficient.  But she is completely dependent on my aunt and uncle for transportation and contact with the outside world.  If she needs something from the store, she needs to get my aunt or uncle to take her.  She constantly feels like she is imposing on them.  I know people often assume that being taken in by relatives is vastly preferable to living in an old-age home, but I think there are some benefits to paying for one's care rather than relying on the goodwill even of one's nearest and dearest.


I have been subject to inappropriate sexual treatment in the workplace more times than I care to recall, all when I was temping or working in retail in a large metropolis between ages 18 and 23.  All my life up to that point, I had been an advocate of girls and women standing up for themselves.  I also considered myself to be a jaded and savvy person.  But these incidents were unnerving even for me, in large part due to the possible amibiguity of the conduct (and also due to my own youth and inexperience at the time).

The first disturbing series of incidents occurred when I was 18 and working in a large store of second hand books.  My job was to shelve and alphabetize endless copies of “review” books that came in for resale, and I found myself often standing in very narrow passage ways among shelves of books, and high stacks of books piled on the floor.  There was another employee who invariably managed to rub the entire front of his crotch on my rear end whenever he passed by me.  He would then say, “Oh, oh, excuse me, oh I’m so sorry,” with seeming sincerity.  The first time I gave him the benefit of the doubt.  By the time this had happened two or three times, however, I had privately concluded that the guy was a major perv.

But what to do about it?  I was a staunch feminist and I knew, even before Anita Hill, all about the evils of sexual harassment.  But I had never imagined myself in this particular situation.  I felt that I had an obligation to myself and to others to call this guy on his crap.  I imagined the situation possibly escalating and people saying to me, “How could you have let this go on for so long?”  But I was also worried about (a) overreacting, (b) accusing this guy unjustly (maybe he was just clumsy) and (c) making a fool of myself.

While I dithered, the situation did escalate.  The inappropriate touching occurred again and with greater frequency. There was also an occasion when the guy’s hand accidentally-on-purpose brushed down the entire length of my breast.

My mother was out of town so I approached my dad for advice.  For all his faults, my dad has always told me “not to take any crap” and he generally has pretty decent advice for handling confrontations, power struggles, and professional issues.  In this instance, however, he blew it off and told me that it was all in my head.  In retrospect and with the wisdom of 17 more years under my belt, it’s hard for me to understand all the self-doubt I had -- the guy was blatantly groping me.  But for some reason, I bought into the notion that I could be misconstruing the situation. And the thought of possibly embarrassing this guy without cause seemed worse than continuing to be sexually groped on a daily basis!

I dithered some more and of course it kept happening.   Finally, I decided to take action.  I had always believed that when someone keeps pushing you, you have to do something about it.  You have to stand up for yourself. But I decided against reporting him to my boss.  I concluded that my boss would likely have the same reaction my father did -- and how could I possibly establish to a third party (I wondered) that this was intentional groping rather than accidental touching resulting from the close quarters in which we all worked.  So I opted to possibly make a fool of myself by taking matters into my own hands.

I worried about my co-workers turning on me.  I worried about being deemed an uptight nutjob.  I worried that I would be mocked for being a prude or for the impotence of my response.  (After all, what power did I really have in the situation?)  But the next time it happened, my heart pounding, I immediately confronted the guy.  I spoke in what felt to me to be an unnaturally loud voice.  I didn’t feel particularly confident or particularly intimidating.  Physically, I was a lot smaller than the perv and I had the high squeaky voice of a teenage girl.  I can’t remember exactly what I yelled, but it was something along the lines of: “STOP GROPING ME.  I WON’T HAVE IT."

I knew how easily I could be mocked for this outburst.  But the guy basically said, “Hey, hey, hey.  Take it easy.  I’m really sorry.  It was an accident.”  And I said something like: “Well, you’re the only one that has these accidents ALL THE TIME.  You’re the only one whose CROTCH keeps GRINDING into me.” He kind of shuffled away muttering something about how I shouldn’t flatter myself.

After that, he tried it one more time.  And this time, I made a threat.  Heart still pounding, I said, “That's it. If you GROPE me one more time, I will TAKE ACTION.”  Of course, I had no idea what action I would take.  But he said, “What? You going to call the cops on me?”  And I said, “Yeah.”  Of course, I didn’t actually think the cops would do anything, but from that time onward, the guy stayed away from me.

So I accomplished my objective -- but only after being groped repeatedly, undergoing a lot of  angst, and self-doubt, and only because I had all the tools of self-confidence, an independent means of financial support, a strong feminist sensibility, and some rudimentary knowledge about sexual harassment.

I suppose many would say that I did the right thing by taking matters into my own hands rather than reporting the guy to my boss.  But I absolutely cannot stress enough how absolutely contrary that confrontation was to my upbringing as an American and as a female.  It totally went against the grain to be confrontational, to be loud, to make a fuss, to state out loud and in crude detail what the guy had done, and to refuse to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. (And, of course, in retrospect, I don’t think there was any real doubt.)

While I certainly advocate that women stand up for themselves in these situations when feasible (obviously every situation is different), I also think it is crucially important to understand why women often do not.  All too often in sexual harassment and rape cases, people assume consent due to a failure by the woman to put a stop to sexually inappropriate behavior earlier in the game.  As a prosecutor, I had one case of a teenage girl whose much older co-worker continually asked her graphic and very personal questions about her sexual proclivities and experiences.  She didn’t know what to do so she answered his questions!  Eventually, he forcibly raped her (and was convicted).  But the defense had a field day with the fact that she had engaged this guy in sex talk prior to the sexual assault and a number of the jurors were, in fact, troubled by her failure to put an end to the guy’s intrusive questioning.  From her perspective though, she didn’t want to overreact or seem like a prude. She wasn’t sure if this guy had any evil intent or if he was just being friendly.  She testified that it felt “rude” not to answer his questions. Refusing to answer seemed too confrontational and was utterly outside the scope of her experience and utterly outside the scope of how we socialize young girls to behave.

Often people argue that many social interactions are simply too ambiguous to classify as sexual harassment or even as socially inappropriate.  Often that may be, and where a judge or jury determines a situation to be truly ambiguous, the accused should have the  benefit of the doubt in accordance with applicable legal standards so that we can avoid punishing the innocent or holding them liable.  But what people too often forget is that ambiguity also operates a shield for the guilty and a way to deflect attempts  by women to address and put an end to troubling conduct before it escalates.  We are quick to give the accused the benefit of the doubt, but we are often similarly quick to dismiss claims by women who have not swooped in to correct ambiguous conduct at the very outset before it turns into something worse.


A long long time ago a conservative reader asked for my thoughts on this post by Jollyblogger David Wayne who opines that:

. . . Christianity does have a kind of hierarchical view of the role relationships between men and women in the church and home, but that this hierarchical view does not imply that women are oppressed in Christianity.

Wayne does not explain what he means by "oppressed."  As the argument continues it appears that he means that women are not to be mistreated in Christianity but rather to be led by men operating in an humble spirit of service and self-sacrifice.  I, however, view any system by which I am automatically placed in a subordinate position based on my sex as "oppressive" regardless of how well-meaning and self-sacrificing those in charge may be.  Even if I am well-fed and well-clothed and my opinion listened to, the unjust fact is that I have no chance of exercising my own talents for servant-leadership except over children or other women at home or in church under the conservative Christian view of the relation between the sexes. 

Wayne's argument that conservative Christian hierarchy is not "oppressive" comes down to two points.  First, he notes that

. . . the gospel challenges the power paradigm  . . . the gospel challenges the notion that God moves through the exercise of (human) power.

He is right about that.  One of the things I like most about Christianity is its radical views of where real power lies.  Christianity is based in large part on the insight that you can be spiritually free, a full moral agent, and equal in moral worth to all other human beings even if you are enslaved by human power, even if you find yourself at the bottom of the hierarchical structures of your society.  Christianity therefore devalues human hierarchical relations, or at least, places them in proper perspective. 

This facet of Christianity does not, however, lead to the conclusion that it is okay to enslave or exercise arbitrary power over others.  Sure, I buy the notion that there are many things in life more important than worldly power. But that doesn't mean that worldly power is unimportant.  Or why would men insist so strongly on holding onto it?  Nor does it justify consigning one half of the human race to an entire lifetime of submission and the other half to a life of "servant-leadership" based on their sex.  It seems to me that much of the conservative Christian argument for women's submission often boils down to: "Power is neither desirable nor important so you women may as well just let us men have all of it."  Riiiight.

The second half of Wayne's argument is that the Gospel only calls men to a particular kind of "headship," that of "servant-leadership."  In other words:

. . . leaders are only worthy to "call the shots" if they understand their position is one of service or sacrifice . . . We lead like Christ led when we see others as better than ourselves and consider their needs to be more important than our own.

Even assuming that most Christian men who exercise "headship" over their wives are truly Christlike (an assumption that I rather doubt), this is scant justification for the practice.  Suppose that we Americans were given the chance to be ruled by a wonderful philosopher-king, a dictator who would have power over our lives but who would exercise it in a self-sacrificing Christ-like manner to serve us and promote our best interests.  I am willing to guess that most conservative Christian men would call this "tyranny" and howl like mad at the very thought of such a thing.  They don't seem to understand, however, that tyranny is just as bad when it is exercised over women, even by the woman's own husband for her best interests. 

I think leadership and hierarchy are useful organizational tools in certain contexts (not marriage, though).  For example, I believe that hierarchy is the best organizational model for my law firm and I "submit" to the leadership of my boss every day.  My boss, while he is doubtless making money off my back, bears responsibility and risk that I don't have and acts in ways that are for the greater good of the firm, its clients, and employees like me.  He is thus, in many ways, a "servant-leader."  So why is my boss's leadership not oppressive whereas my husband's would be?  One, I can walk away from my law firm at any time.  If my boss acts in ways that I dislike, I'm outta there.  Two, if I stay at my law firm, I can one day expect the opportunity to be in the leadership position my current boss now enjoys.  I can ascend the hierarchy, and thus have the opportunity to have exercised my talents both as a subordinate and also as a servant-leader.  In a conservative Christian marriage, however, it is a lifetime commitment of being the subordinate in the hierarchy regardless of my talents and predilections or those of my husband.  My husband's a peach, but, much as I adore him, lifetime submission to him would be oppressive in and of itself, no matter how great he is.   I can't imagine that a just God would ask that of me, any more than God expected the Founding Fathers of the United States to submit to the headship of their anointed King. 


There have been a number of musings and critiques in the feminist blogosphere lately about the community of "Christian lady bloggers" who reject feminism, egalitarian marriage, and even sometimes women's suffrage.  I like these two posts by Echidne of the Snakes

(NOTE to my Christian lady blogger friends:  Yes, Echidne titles her first post "Travels in Wingnuttia."  But as she hastens to explain that the term "wingnut" is a term of endearment employed by us feminazi/moonbat types.  Her tone in both posts is critical and bemused but not hostile.  And the first post includes pictures of some adorable little sweaters she knit.)

But actually my main point is that one of the bloggers discussed, Kim C. of Life in a Shoe, is currently live blogging her labor.  Now I have to say that's kind of cool.  I know she does not intend it as a feminist act, but there seems to be something very modern and feminist about recording and publicizing the experience of giving birth from the perspective of the mother herself.  In the past, the birth process with all its messiness and pain was something to be swept under the carpet and only discussed among the women folk and only then in hushed whispers.  It is always good to be reminded that giving birth is not necessarily an easy thing (although I certainly wish Kim C., who has 7 daughters already, a relatively easy and pain free labor).  It is also good to be reminded that the laboring mother is still a human being with thoughts and decision-making capacity and emotions and agency.  (My mother is still irritated 35 years later that before and during delivery, hospital staff referred to her in the third person as though she weren't even present.)  And finally, every birth and the prodigious efforts of every mother during labor and delivery should be celebrated whether one comes from a pro-choice or anti-choice perspective.

Of course, I know that Kim C. neither lives nor blogs as a feminist.  I don't know for sure but I suspect that she believes that all or most women should enslave themselves to their reproductive system by marrying, declining contraception, and carrying all resulting children to term.  Nonetheless, I am cheered by her live blogging.  Women expressing themselves, even or perhaps especially about intimate aspects of the female experience, can only be a good thing.   

UPDATED:  Kim had her baby -- a little boy, 8lbs, 9oz! Congratulations Kim! 


I have been mulling over this old story about feminist blogs, which appeared in the Guardian on March 31.  The tagline reads in part: "[A]re they globalising emancipation - or just playthings for the rich and well educated?"   This snippet goes to the heart of the issue:

Nina Wakeford, a sociologist at the University of Surrey, is cautious about blogging's influence. "I think the way blogs can provoke debate is useful," she concedes, "but it isn't clear how much they feed into activism. In the past, there was a clear role for women's organisations as regards representations to government, but I'm not sure whether women can affect public policy through blogging. Just who are they representing?"

I certainly have never had a thought about "globalising emancipation" or "feed[ing] into activism."  So I guess my blog falls into the category of "plaything for the rich and well educated," although I hardly think having an internet connection qualifies a person as "rich." 

When I started this blog, I knew that I have a lot of crap in my head that I rarely express to anyone in my real life, and that it would be fun to have an outlet to do so. It just so happens that a lot of that crap in my head is feminist crap.  But I had (and have) no grand feminist hopes or ambitions for my blog.  I didn't even expect to necessarily have any regular readers.  I figured I would express my opinions and my thoughts in as honest a fashion as possible and see what might happen.  At most, I thought maybe people would occasionally stumble upon particular posts when researching particular issues and consider my point of view.  (It's a little scary how likely that has turned out to be, however.  If you google "women in combat & feminist," I am the first hit you get.  And who the hell am I? Just an average Jane with an internet connection.)

Once I started though, I found blogging to be one of the most pleasurable hobbies I have ever indulged.  It's been an absolute joy from the outset.  I think I like it because I am a rather "political" person in real life.  I wouldn't say that I am inauthentic, but I am conscious of people's perceptions of me and I manage those perceptions.  I spend a lot of energy making sure that employers and clients and potential clients have confidence in me-- which means that I don't spill my guts about nostalgia and longing and unhappy childhoods and What Feminism Means to Me.  It's wonderful to have an honest forum where I can Let it All Hang Out and Express the Real Me.  It is the ultimate in narcissism and it feels great. And the fact that people seem to like reading regularly enhances the experience for me considerably.  I suppose it feeds into a basic human desire to be seen and recognized.   

At the same time, though, while my motives are utterly selfish, I intuit that I am participating in a movement that is perhaps more important than my pleasure.  Certainly, I think there are ways in which blogging can "feed into activism" or draw attention to important news events that might otherwise go unnoticed.  But to me, even more importantly, it is the possibility of affecting individual outlooks that seems exciting.  Maybe some girl in an unfeminist or patriarchal corner of the U.S. or the world will stumble upon Ink and Incapability or The Sugared Harpy or Feministe and think, "I'm not the only person in the world who thinks like this!" or "I never thought about things in this light before!"  And isn't that the ultimate goal of all communication?  To make that individual connection with someone? 

I don't think that feminist blogging has to be organized or directed towards specific goals in order to be effective in this way.  Quite the contrary.  I like the fact that the "femosphere" is a collection of wildly diverse and often divergent voices and styles.  Whether we are academic, raunchy, sardonic, witty, gracious, reflective, angry, youthful, wise, analytical, poetic, a combination thereof, or something else altogether, we reflect the fact that feminists are individuals.      

I also like the fact that feminist bloggers vent about things like how annoying it is when strange men on the street tell us to "Smile!"  We are constantly told (usually by people who are somewhat hostile to feminism) that whatever subject we are discussing "trivializes" feminism.  But the fact is that blogging is supposed to be trivial sometimes.  Everyone's blog isn't always going to be about Big Issues like the latest Supreme Court decision on abortion or genital mutilation in North Africa.  Blogs are personal by their very nature, and the personal is often mundane.  And I think that is the beauty of blogging.  Even if being told to "Smile!" isn't the most earth-shattering event, I might be drawn into someone's blog by the fact that I have had that experience too and found it irritating, and by the fact that I hadn't really thought through the gender connotations of those pesky intrusions.  These are the kinds of things that get people thinking in a way that a dry treatise on the wage gap might not.  And getting people to at least start to see things from a feminist perspective can only be a good thing (as is the happiness of individual feminist bloggers).


All my nostaliga for my west African childhood led me to discover three feminist stories, all just from one country.  Kinda makes you wonder what else you're missing from this enormous and diverse continent.

Breast Ironing:  Broadsheet and Feministe describe the practice of beating away or ironing girls' breasts at puberty.   Approximately 26% of Cameroonian girls undergo these rather useless and painful attempts to get rid of their breasts and protect them (or, more accurately, protect their family's honor) from men's sexual interest.  The good news is that Cameroon has instituted a nationwide campaign against this practice.  It has also criminalized the practice, at least to some extent.  According to a story from BBC News Yaounde (reproduced at Jackaranda's blog),  if a medical doctor determines that damage has been caused to the breasts,  the responsible party may be jailed for up to three years.  It is unclear whether there are other penalties for breast ironing, but I would hate to think that the Cameroon's criminal code is primarily directed at protecting the breast rather than the young girl herself.  After all, a young girl can feel pain even if her breasts survive the process.

African feminist pioneer:  The story of Sita Bella, a Cameroonian woman who led an extraordinary life, is rather inspiring.  She was Cameroon's first female journalist, first female pilot, and one of Africa's first female filmmakers-- no small shakes in a highly patriarchal society.  She was also a writer, guitarist, and model.  The sad news is that she is no longer with us, having died earlier this year. Even worse, as blogger Dibussi Tande reports, she died in obscurity and poverty, virtually forgotten in her own country until after she died. 

Sisters in Law fight Patriarchy:  Dibussi Tande also reports that "Cameroon's Patriarchy Gets a Lashing from Sisters in Law," a documentary regarding a woman prosecutor, Vera Ngassa, and a woman judge, Beatrice Ntuba, who deal with crimes against women and girls, "often fighting deeply entrenched attitudes and a male-dominated power structure to find justice," according to this story from NPR.  The NPR story also includes an interview with Ngassa and Ntuba, as well as a clip from the film. 


One of the things that reading the Hirshman book has made me realize is how easily I get trapped in the rhetoric of those who do not value women in the workplace.  This thread disturbed me in that respect.  Somehow the thread devolved into a discussion of why people as individuals even need validation from others and whether I might "want" to do something else if my circumstances change, since I might not feel the same way at another time.  I myself even reduced my own piece to a "feel good" piece and allowed the most important point to get lost.

That point is DUTY.  Where does our "duty" lie?  Probably more than anything else in life, I am interested  in doing my duty, in identifying and doing "the right thing." I have determined that my duty lies in the workplace.  It really has nothing to do with my feelings.  Even if I suddenly had a burning desire to stay home with babies, I would still work.  Because I feel that that is my duty. It is my duty to use my talents to benefit those beyond my family.  It is also my duty to take advantage of the opportunities hard won by generations of women before me. 

Unlike Hirshman, I do feel very uncomfortable telling other women what choices they should make.  Maybe that's a flaw or a weakness on my part.  But I am happy to share the moral calculation I have made in my personal life.

I do think Hirshman is one hundred per cent correct that feminists have ceded the "culture war" to the social conservatives.  Social conservatives benefit from feminist silence over "duty" because they get to define women's duty as staying at home.  People do want to know the "right thing to do" and the only one answering that question are the social conservatives.

Feminists generally don't want to offend or alienate anyone by castigating or belittling other women's life decisions.  I feel that way too, because I know a lot of stay-at-home moms whom I respect.  I guess I am squeamish, and that squeamishness plays right into the hands of the right.  (I note that social conservatives aren't quite so shy.  Hirshman quotes Danielle Crittendon as telling working women that our lives are "just a pile of pay stubs."  Thanks, Danielle!) But Hirshman is right -- by refraining from making value judgment, we're leaving the field wide open for the value judgments of the Christian right.  And we allow the Christian right (and others) to characterize working women as "selfish," an absurd characterization that might make it tough for ambitious young girls who want to do the right thing to justify their ambitions to their families and their communities. 

But by not making value judgments, we support a culture that is happy to virtually scream at women that they should stay home and focus inward on their families rather than the broader society.  Now, I can't speak to anyone's personal life or choices, so I prefer to take the positive-reinforcement approach by saying WOMEN IN THE WORKPLACE IS AN UNQUALIFIED GOOD. Women in the workplace should be praised for their decision-- not because it's good for my little fee-fees (I am already fully committed to my decision), but because it encourages other women who want to do their duty to choose the workplace.  Just because we are feminists doesn't mean we can't have an opinion.   


Tra la la -- I know everyone's probably getting sick of Hirshman, but I am just so tickled to have gotten my copy of her book Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World from Amazon. Hirshman's book speaks to something deep in my core.  The fact is, I am completely Hirshman-ish in my thinking about my own choices and I always have been.  Yet I see nary any  validation for that in our culture, especially for women. 

I have always felt not only a strong desire for a career but a strong sense of DUTY towards my career.  I have always been very duty-oriented, and in my mind, my obligation is to contribute to the labor force, and to push myself as far as I can in whatever endeavor I choose to adopt.  I feel this way partly because I feel I ought to exercise the rights hard-won by past feminists, and partly because I feel that I ought to use all of my privileges, all of my talents and education, out in the world for the benefit of others besides my family. Maybe I am not talented enough to discover the cure for cancer, but I still ought to use my talents however far they extend.

This is why it cheeves me off to no end when career women are castigated as being "selfish."  I always think to myself, "Working long hours and fretting constantly on behalf of my clients is the way a selfish person behaves?!?!?!? People think I do this just so I can drive a snazzy car?!?!?!?" (By the way, my car is so un-snazzy that I actually have to roll the windows up and down manually.)

Working is certainly no walk in the park.  It's stressful and you're constantly answering to people.  In my case, I've got demanding clients, perfectionist bosses, and grumpy judges all looking over my shoulder, as well as opposing counsel just waiting for me to trip up.  There are days when I love it and days when I am miserable.  But there is no question in my mind that my calling and my obligation in life is to WORK, and to work outside the home.  I don't do this just to have a little extra cash in the bank and I don't do it just to look all glamorous in a business suit.  I do it because I think what I do has value. 

And you know what else?  I do put my work above family.  All the time.  It is a frequent occurrence in our household that I will say to my darling husband, "You know what? You're not gonna see me this weekend, because I am going to be chained to my desk working."  Do I feel even slightly guilty about this? Not a bit.  His job as my husband is to support me in my endeavors just as I support him in his.  He has my first loyalty over any other individual on the planet, and I love him deeply, and I would certainly drop everything for him in a crisis, but family time does not come before work time in our house.  No way.  The point of family, in my view, is to support and nurture the individual visions of each member.  "Family" is not in itself a mythical good or an end goal.

I know Hirshman has pissed off a lot of people by trashing other women's choices and I have said repeatedly that deriding how other people spend their time isn't my thing.  But, you know what, it is so wonderful and refreshing to have someone validate -- without apology or qualification -- the choices of working women who value their careers.  And reading her validation made me realize how very rare it is to see that in our press and in our culture.   

The few times I have expressed to others my real feelings about career and its centrality to my life and self-image, I have been absolutely derided.  When I told a college professor/mentor that I was "ambitious," she acted as though I had confessed some terrible sin that she had to help me overcome.  Others have told me that I am "arrogant" or that I am a "sucker" just slaving away to make some big company richer. 

But I will say it here, loud and proud.  I work full-time for a living and I will continue working full-time for a living.  I will work full-time for a living if I have children.  I will work full-time for a living if my husband gets a $500,000 a year job.  I will work full-time for a living if I win the lottery.  On my death bed, I will probably wish that I spent more time at the office.   And  I think that's an absolutely honorable choice that I, as a woman, have no need to apologize for.  Thank you very much.



Silly me.  I almost forgot to link to Lindsay's response to Hirshman at Majikthise.  She says in part:

If we denigrate parenting and housework, we not only insult the contributions of other women, we also give men more incentive to shirk their duties at home.

I think this a very important point.  Nicole reminded me of this angle when she pointed me to this post by Aaron at The Stopped Clock.  He says:

Further, it is my impression that a father who takes time off for the "daddy track" would likely face greater obstacles returning to the workforce than a mother, so perhaps the problem is not so much one of "feminism" but of the fact that attitudes like Hirshman's - that child-rearing tasks are unworthy - are pervasive.

I know at least one reader whose decision to stay home was influenced in part by the fact that it would have been impossible for her husband to do so.  In his profession, there was too much of a stigma attached to men who stay home with kids. 

Certainly in the bad old days before the successes of Second Wave feminism, the "housewife" wasn't exactly a respected figure in our society.  Even now some of the elderly male partners at my firm will advise us trial lawyers to simplify (and shorten!!) our language as if we were trying to explain the complexities of the case to "Aunt Milly" -- the assumption being that Aunt Milly is a rather simple person since she likely spent her whole life at home scrubbing floors.  I am willing to bet that utter lack of respect for housewives in the past was probably part of the motivation for many Second Wavers to reject the homemaker role. 

The social conservatives have wised up.  Thus, the "family values" set is all about glorifying the homemaker's role -- as long as women are doing it of course. All this talk of the Proverbs 31 woman whose value is greater than rubies is intended to encourage women in their homemaker role.  That encouragement is far more necessary than in the past because women now have so many options outside the home. 

It is human nature that people are more likely to do things, especially things above and beyond what is expected, if those things aren't treated as shameful.  Therefore, while I am all in favor of encouraging women to be hard chargers at work, I agree that it is an enormous blunder to stigmatize the very necessary activities of cooking, mopping, scrubbing, vacuuming, and most significantly, childcare.   Even without kids in the mix, housework is important because it is very difficult to function at capacity in a chaotic and unclean environment. (That's why the military is so rigorous in its standards of order and cleanliness. In the traditionally all-male military environment, cleaning wasn't stigmatized at all but seen as a necessary component of accomplishing the military's mission.)  So certainly we should value housework and childcare.  Without doing so, there would be no incentive for men to do it other than "it's the right thing to do." (There are some guys out there doing it, though, like Rebel Dad). 

Thus, I agree wholeheartedly that Hirshman was wrong to denigrate homemakers.  And while I know Nicole ain't buying it, I think that Hirshman's denigration of stay-at-home-parenting is tangential to her argument (although in interviews and such Hirshman herself seems to be stressing that pieces of her argument for some reason that escapes me).  In fact, I think it is counterproductive to her argument because, if the ultimate goal, is truly free choices for men and women without regard to societal assumptions based on sex, then we need to eradicate the pressures on men not to do homemaking as much as we need to eradicate the pressure on women to take on the homemaking role. 


I was extremely drained and grumpy after a long morning in court yesterday, but my friends in the blogosphere perked me right up:

Redneck Mother sent me this fabulous photograph, which has had me smiling all day.  It looks like an environmentally friendly way to commute during the winter!

I am also very much looking forward to receiving a review copy of a book called Paradigm Found by Anne Firth Murray, founder of The Global Fund for Women.  The book, I understand, addresses a feminist vision of leadership.  I can't wait to read and report! (I'll also be reporting this fall on Rose Aguilar's book on her road trip through the red states.)

And there are lots of Hirshman posts from all over:

Redneck Mother has a lot to say including:

So if Linda Hirshman were to appear on my front step this evening and say, "Woman, you are wasting your time staying home," I would invite her in and offer her a glass of wine. Then while she was drinking it I would run out the front door and leave her to raise my kids. 

L. at Homesick Home has two new responses to Hirshman. She discovers that Hirshman herself is married with three children.  And she notes that Linda Hirshman is kind of like her mom.  What Linda Hirshman is saying to our generation is probably similar to what a lot of Second Wave feminist moms are saying to their daughters.  That's why it feels so personal. 

Ann Bartow at Feminist Law Professors asks Are Linda Hirshman and Caitlin Flanagan the Dominant Voices of Contemporary Gender Discourse?  That's kind of a scary thought, huh?  (And it made my day that Ann said nice things about my Hirshman posts. It's always a little heady when a law professor praises one's work.)

Echidne of the Snakes and Jill at Feministe have thoughtful takes on Hirshman as well.  As Jill says, the problem is that, regardless of the positive aspects of Hirshman's thinking Hirshman is "easily caricatured" so that her more critical points are lost in the discourse.  It doesn't help that everything falling out of Hirshman's mouth lately seems to be playing into the caricature. 


God, all this Hirshman discussion, has my blood pressure boiling right now.  Why?  Because this is the very hardest stuff for women to talk about: our personal choices as to how to deal with career and family.  These choices are deeply personal, they go to the core of who we are, and they are often wrenching and painful. I would submit that the angst women suffer over work-family issues is well-nigh universal (except for those women who simply accept a traditionalist lifestyle in which they accept being subordinate).  But despite the fact that these choices often reflect our values and affect our self-image, the key thing, I think, is to be dead honest about what the trade offs are.

This is the thing I appreciated so very much about my wonderful homemaker mother.  A shy, passive, easily dominated person who never went to college and was either a secretary and homemaker all her life, she might seem at first glance to be the farthest thing from a Hirshman feminist.  But, man, my mother was brave and gutsy as all get out at NAMING the factors that had constrained and shaped her life.  No matter how painful it got, she was clear-eyed about the ways in which she got the shaft because of her sex.

My mother was born in 1941 and was heavily socialized throughout her childhood to aspire to a  very traditional femininity.  She was raised in a devout Lutheran household that stressed the teachings of Paul, including the teachings regarding a woman's proper submissive role.  In high school, despite an excellent academic record, my mother was encouraged by both guidance counselors and parents to choose home economics classes whenever given the chance for an elective.  After high school, there was no thought of my mother going to college because there didn't seem to be any reason for a girl to go to college.  My mother married up  (my father was a Harvard educated professional), putting her at a distinct disadvantage in terms of the power balance in the family.  If there was ever a disagreement, well guess what, dad was going to win because (a) he was better educated, (b) he was the breadwinner, and (c) my mother didn't have the ability to be assertive.  My mother did absolutely everything related to home and child care.  All my father had to do was go to work.  When he got home, dinner was on the table, the bills were paid, the laundry done, the house immaculate, etc.    

Now let me be clear.   My mother has never taken any steps whatsoever to change her subordinate status at home and in society.  I asked her once why she didn't leap on board when the women's movement broke out in full force in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Her answer was that while the women's movement had her full support, she felt that it came slightly too late for her. 

My mother also takes full responsibility for the choices she made (choices, of course, made within the constraints placed on women on those days).  She both relished and made the most of her life as a stay-at-home mom and a homemaker.  She nurtured my education, my sense of humor, my values, and my interests.  She created a wonderful home.  She gardened, cooked, sewed, and restored furniture, and was invariably cheerful and optimistic.  Her worst error (in my opinion) was in not walking out on my father.  But that would have been an awful lot to ask someone who was raised to be a wife and who could not have hoped to approximate the income that my father was able to provide both me and her.  Striking out on her own with a child would have been simply too daunting.   

But here is the extraordinary thing:  My mother was always very clear about the sex-based injustices that had constrained her life.  I would ask all sorts of obnoxious questions when I was a young kid (not because I was trying to be disrespectful but because I was worried):  Aren't you humiliated not to even have your own name?  Yup.  By not earning an income, aren't you basically a second class citizen?  Yup.  Isn't it unfair that dad gets to tell you what to do? Yup.   

What I loved about my mother is that she would never pussy-foot around.  She never tried to pass off the obvious inequities she suffered as anything other than what they were.  She didn't try to say, "Oh no, I am not a second-class citizen because I have influence." Or, "I'm a lot luckier than your Dad because I get to stay home with you."  Or, "Your dad and I are a team.  There's a give-and-take.  We each have equal but  separate roles."  It was my mother who first made me see in a lightbulb-going-off-in-my-head kind of way why abortion is a key feminist issue. (In a rare bout of assertiveness, she also went off on an Opus Dei priest, who was a guest in our home, when he said a prayer at our dinner table for all the unborn "children" who were "murdered" by abortion.)  She also criticized quite vocally the religion in which she was raised, her own socialization, and the educational choices towards which she was guided when she was young.   

In short, the woman called things by what they are, and for that I will be eternally grateful.  It would have been a lot easier for her to rationalize away the complete subordination of her position in life.  It must have been horrifying for her to see the truth about how she was deprived of the tools to make her own way in the world and to view the unvarnished reality of her subordinate position to my father.  But she always, always, always told me the truth, no matter how painful.

Sure, my mother could have fought.  She could have taken her destiny by the horns and battled all of the expectations and constraints of her situation.  But my mother's not a fighter.  She is, however, a terrific feminist because she had the brass ovaries to NAME the stark realities under which she lived.  Her willingness to do so gave ME the tools to lead a very different kind of life.       


I am bringing up the Hirshman article now because I missed my chance to comment last November, because Hirshman just published a book expanding on her article, and because there has been more recent discussion of this in the blogosphere at:


The Republic of Heaven

Laura from 11D


DJW at Lawyers, Guns and Money

Daniel Nexon at Lawyers, Guns and Money

Also from last fall, we have commentary from:

Bitch Ph.D

The Impoderabilia of Actual Life



OK, so I'm taking my stand.  I thought the Hirshman article was freaking fantabulous.  No, I don't disdain stay-at-home mothers or part-time mothers.  Hear me out, people, before you cast judgment. 

First of all, I am just so relieved to finally see a feminist address in a realistic way the glass ceiling at home that leads so many women to "opt out" of the pathways to power in the public sphere.  Just hoping that on-site daycare and flextime will somehow materialize and resolve the pressures on women to opt out ain't gonna cut it.  As someone who has been extremely ambitious in a very traditional way (i.e. I'd rather be a senator than start a commune), I have been perturbed pretty much all my life by the issues with which Hirshman grapples. What if no one wants to hire me because they are afraid I'm going to leave as soon as I have kids?  What if I marry someone who simply won't do his share on the home-and-kid front (a possibility that would certainly have become reality if I had married the boyfriend I dated for three years in college)? Is it realistic even to expect a man to really support my career even (if necessary) at the expense of his own when that is so utterly contrary to every expectation of our culture?   

Second, I understand why stay-at-home moms are so upset.  Hirshman is unnecessarily derogatory about what stay-at-home moms do.  She is also contradictory on this point.  On the one hand, she says, "a common thread among the women I interviewed was a self-important idealism about the kinds of intellectual, prestigious, socially meaningful, politics-free jobs worth their incalculably valuable presence."  She then argues essentially that women need to understand that work is never really like that and that you have to "lose [your] capitalism virginity."  Then, later she says that upper class moms are not living up to their potential because they are spending all their time sweeping and cleaning up bodily waste.  This is just silly because (a) lots of upper class moms outsource the most mundane tasks, (b) part of losing your capitalism virginity means you have to be prepared to do all sorts of mundane tasks in the workplace (I would happily compare the tedium of writing up interrogatories to the tedium of sweeping), and (c) there is a lot more to homecare and child care than just those tedious tasks, just as there is a lot more to practicing law than writing interrogatories.  But I don't think this piece of Hirshman's argument is crucial to the essence of what she is saying. 

Here is the thing:  IF we believe that it is important to approach equality of numbers in the boardroom, in Congress, in the media, in the laboratory, and in the other corridors of power, we MUST address the fact that women are often simply not pursuing those goals.

I am the last person to ever say to you, "You have an obligation to live your life for the collective."  I would scoff at any conservative who tells me I have an obligation to stay home and have babies because it is better for society as a whole if I do.  I would also scoff at any feminist who tells me I have an obligation to pursue a law firm partnership or a judgeship because it is better for women if I do. (While I am personally on that conventional power track in my locality, I "opted out" of any chance in the truly big leagues when I moved to the provinces upon marriage.) That having been said, I am indeed very interested in addressing the current stagnation in terms of the numbers of women on the track towards becoming part of the power elite-- and I don't think we can close our eyes, say "feminism is about choice," and simply hope that cultural expectations will change or that the workplace will become more family friendly or that the first woman President of the United States will just materialize.

It may be that the only way to achieve the goal of more powerful women is to stigmatize other choices, like full-time motherhood, but I sure hope not.  What I love about Hirshman's article is that she is clear-eyed about naming the problem.  If you have "opted out," that doesn't make you a bad person, and it doesn't make you a bad feminist.  You gotta do what you gotta do, including whatever is best for your own happiness and that of your family.  But we have to recognize that "opting out" in itself does not advance the ball.  Stay-at-home moms can certainly advance the ball in other respects -- supporting reproductive rights, getting involved in their communities, and passing on feminist values to their kids.  I think talking more honestly and more practically with ambitious daughters of the next generation is a biggie, in fact.

What about other criticisms of Hirshman's article?

1) Aren't there other ways to have an impact in the world besides conventional "success?"  Well, yeah.  Personally, if I had a lick of artistic talent, I would drop all this law crap and become a writer or a musician.  Not everyone has to be a corporate drone or a politician or a wonk.  But the point is that Congress and the media and the judiciary and big business have a pretty darned big impact and they are overwhelmingly male dominated.  What is happening to those women who would be senators or newspaper editors but for overwhelming pressures to do otherwise?  We need to address this question and address it honestly.   

2) Isn't this article awfully "elitist"?  What about the concerns of women in poverty or women in other parts of the globe?  Look, Hirshman is not saying, "Ignore the issues faced by women who are not part of the elite."  Nor is she saying that solving the gender disparity among the power elite is the be-all and end-all of feminism.  She named one particular feminist issue and she tackled it.   

3) Why do we care about infilitrating a power structure that was created by men for men on male terms?  Because it's all we got.  Unless we are actually going to revolt like the Bolsheviks and create a new society wholecloth, this IS the power structure that runs our society.

4) Is parity in the elite corridors of power important?  Um, I think most feminists believe it is important to have more women in the upper echelons of the power elite.  Certainly, it is good for us, women like me, who have chosen the traditional male career track, because it means I am less likely to be stigmatized by the assumption that I am not as committed as my male colleagues to that career track.  But, more importantly, as Hirshman points out, an overwhelmingly male ruling elite is more likely to be oblivious or indifferent to the issues that affect the female half of the population.  This is a piece of her argument that I intuitively believe to be true but that I would love to see fleshed out more. I am hoping to learn more in Hirshman's new book, Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World, which I hope to read over the Fourth of July weekend. 


There was quite the hullaballoo in the feminist blogosphere last November over this article by Linda Hirshman in The American Prospect.  The following is my summary of how I understand Hirshman's article:

1. Women are opting out in significant numbers from the opportunity to reach the most powerful and influential positions in our society.

-- Elite American women (i.e the most privileged and best educated women) are indeed in significant numbers opting out of the opportunity to reach the most powerful and influential positions in our society (such as senator, congressman, Fortune 500 CEO, judge, law firm partner, etc.).   Women in this class frequently are abandoning their careers altogether, taking a significant number of years off, or working part-time for a number of years. Hirshman supports this contention with an impressive array of studies and statistics (although I would have to question her decision to focus on a group of brides from the New York Times Sunday Styles section, since I would assume these women would be a somewhat traditonalist-minded group by definition if they care enough about their social status as brides that they get themselves listed in Sunday Styles). Because of the time-intensive dedication it takes to reach these powerful positions, women who take years off or work part-time aren't going to reach those heights. 

CAVEAT:  As Hirshman herself notes, this does NOT mean that prejudice and discrimination don't still exist.  So this "opting out" is not a basis for simply throwing up one's hands and saying, "See? We don't need to worry about workplace discrimination." But that's NOT what this post is about.

2.  The primary problem, which makes a farce of "choice" feminism, is the overwhelmingly pervasive and powerful cultural assumption that women are the primary careetakers of home and family.

-- The glass ceiling women are butting up against is most hard to break not in the workplace but in the family.  Women are severely constrained by the overwhelming cultural assumption that homecare and childcare is the woman's responsibility.  It is pretty much impossible to put in 12-14 hour days at the law firm if you are the primary caretaker of a small child.  Yet, even in progressive circles, it is often simply assumed that the woman is to be the primary caretaker.  Therefore, in a sense, the notion that a woman has voluntarily chosen to opt out is a myth because she made that choice in a culture which assigned the primary child and homecare responsibilities to her.  "Choice" feminism is therefore a cop-out because it fails to address the grim reality that the circumstances in which women make their choices are different than for men and, to a large extent, socially constructed.

3.  There are concrete steps we can teach ambitious young women to help them escape the false choice of "be primary caretaker of home and family AND super career  woman" versus "be primary caretaker of home and family without being a super career woman." 

-- A solution (assuming we want more women in traditionally powerful positions) is to give young women concrete guidance as to how to get there.  It is one thing to say vaguely, "Women can do anything!" and quite another to explain how a woman can compete effectively in a society which places on her an unequal share of the burden of home and family responsibilities.  Concrete steps ambitious young women can take are:

             1) "Prepare yourself to qualify for good work."

             2) "Treat work seriously."  One problem is that women are often taught -- vaguely again--  that the work is supposed to be about "self-fulfillment."  Men on the other hand view work as a necessity, a requirement for providing for one's family.  This is a problem because if you think that work is just supposed to be meaningful and fulfilling all the time, well, then, you're going to be in for a rude awakening and "opting out" of the workplace might seem more appealing.  As Hirshman says, the path to really getting into a position to change things often involves the mundane, the small, and the dirty business of making money.  She quotes one woman who thought it was strange that her former male colleagues got so excited about making deals because "it's only money."  But, you know, money makes the world go round.   

             3)  "Don't put yourself in a position of unequal resources if you marry." The big, big problem is that if you marry a man who is your age and at your educational level, then you are in a position of unequal resources because every expectation in our culture supports the notion that the man's career is more important than the woman's and that the woman has the primary responsibility to tend the home fires.  Unless you marry a guy who is extraordinarily progressive, you're going to have an uphill battle protecting your career interests when it comes time to make tough choices about balancing work and family.  It seems the best options are to marry someone much younger, someone much less educated, someone much less ambitious, or perhaps someone much older who is already established and can afford to take time off himself because he has done his thing already. 

              Hirshman also advises having no more than one child. 

    4.   It is important to have more women among the power elite because what the power elite does affects all of us.

        A)  If the ruling class is overwhelmingly male, they will likely exercise their power based on obliviousness or indifference to women's interests.

      B)  Even ambitious woman will be tarnished by the knowledge that she is not likely to become a ruler.  This affects how people treat her (i.e. based on the assumption that she is not going to go all the way) and her own confidence.  The lack of women in the power elite thereby becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.

     C)  People imitate what occurs among the ruling elite.

     D)  Opting out is bad for the individual women who do it because they deprive themselves of the opportunity for full human "fluorishing."  Uh, as I will explain in my next post, I think this point is where Hirshman goes off the rails.  This is also where she really pisses people off.   But I think it would be unfortunate, as I will explain in my next post, to ignore Hirshman's larger point because she was rude to stay-at-home-mothers-- her larger point being, that IF we want more women in power, we MUST address the forces and pressures that cause women to not seek power. 


I have hesitated to write about my long-standing distaste for Eve Ensler's massive Vagina Monologues hoopla because I don't want to give fodder to my anti-feminist readers to go off on tirades in my comments section about how the existence of Eve Ensler proves that feminism in general is a silly, crude, vulgar, frivolous idea.  Today, however, I am inspired to say my piece, having come across Rebecca Traister's pithy summing up, which happens to perfectly capture my feelings on the matter:

Ensler and her anatomically enthusiastic project are not my favorite elements of current feminism, but as usual, it's hard to fault the cause.

I should admit up front that I have neither seen nor read the play. I actually think the idea of the play is potentially interesting --  a collection of monologues based on real statements by real women about their attitude towards and experiences with the most intimate part of their anatomy.  I am also, of course, all in favor of fundraising for rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, and other organizations designed to support victims of sexual or family violence or to prevent such violence in the first place-- and I must give Ensler all the credit that is due to her for her success in this area. 

What makes me go "Yik" is all the hoopla, the kind of thing that Traister described in her 2004 piece about Ensler's co-sponsorship of a get-out-the-vote event called "Vaginas Vote, Chicks Rock."  At this particular event, Ensler instructed the crowd to "Step into your vaginas and get the vagina vote out" and cheered "Vulva! Vulva! Vulva! Vote!"  I have the impression that there is a lot of similar yelling and sloganeering at the annual V-day events, at which The Vagina Monologues are performed to raise money for rape crisis centers and such. 

I am turned off by it not because I dislike the word "vagina" or because I am squeamish about sex talk (trust me, I'm not).  I certainly think that placing cultural value on women's sexual pleasure and sexual agency, and increasing women's comfort with and understanding of our bodies is a noble feminist goal.  (For example, I am a big fan of the classic women's health resource guide Our Bodies, Ourselves put out by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective.)  What I really find off-putting about the V-day events is that they seem hokey. It's hokey because saying "vagina" isn't cutting edge -- especially if you make a big deal about the fact that you are saying "vagina."  I also think, while it's great to be comfortable with one's anatomy, I certainly don't want to imply that my essence resides in my reproductive and sexual capacities.  Obviously, I possess a vagina but, more importantly, I possess a heart and a brain. 

But you know what? Just because V-day isn't my thing or Rebecca Traister's thing doesn't mean you can't go ahead and enjoy it if it happens to be your thing. (See my post on tolerance!)  If V-day speaks to young women on college campuses and causes young women to think more seriously about feminism, grrreeeeaaaattt!  But don't fall into the trap of thinking that it is the be-all and end-all of current feminism.  Eve Ensler doesn't represent me but I am indeed a feminist.  We feminists are a diverse lot who diverge on a lot of things.  The commonality we have -- whether we are hokey or sophisticated, whether we agree on everything or not -- is that we view women's equality, dignity, and freedom as crucial.  Eve Ensler certainly qualifies on that count, and so do I, even if I never attend a V-day event. 


A couple other critiques of the Vagina Monologues from a feminist perspective:

It's bad enough that men go around thinking of women primarily as vaginas to be conquered. Do we really also need to encourage women to think of themselves as vaginas in need of defense?

-- commenter in Salon's Broadshet

Also see the critique by the famous Dr. Betty Dodson, inventor of masturbation workshops for women, who worries that the Vagina Monologues may reinforce sexist views of female sexual pleasure:

One of the great sexual tragedies in history occurred when Dr. Sigmund Freud formulated his theory that the clitoris was an infantile source of pleasure and that as a woman matures, her sexual sensations are transferred to the vagina.


So this morning I'm at a mediation, which is a procedure to try to reach a settlement with the other side in a lawsuit.  In a mediation, the parties split up so that the mediator can talk to each side privately in an effort to get the parties to agree on a final settlement number.  There is a lot of sitting around and shooting the breeze with your client while the mediator is conferring with the other side.  In this particular case, the group shooting the breeze was: me, the cop I'm representing, the adjuster from the pooled risk group who will pay the settlement, the other cop who is a co-defendant, his lawyer, and the adjuster from his pooled risk group.  There was a lot of laughing and joking around because the other lawyer, and the adjusters, and the mediator and I work together on lots of other cases.  I was the only woman in the room and also a solid fifteen years younger than everyone else. 

Not one, not two, not three, but a total of six times in two hours, the men apologized to me for swearing.  The mediator said, "You've got be shitting me! Oh, geez, I'm sorry, Happy."  The other lawyer said, "I really think so-and-so is -- pardon me, Happy -- a real asshole."  At one point one of the adjusters said, "Happy, put your fingers in your ears. Look, I think plaintiff's being a dick."  I kept saying, "Hey, this isn't anything I haven't heard before or said myself."  But they kept doing it.

I don't think any of them meant anything malicious by it.  I don't think they were trying to differentiate me from the others or embarrass me.  I think they were probably all raised not to swear in front of women.    Except that they were swearing in front of me. I don't mind the swearing but I am not down with the apologizing.  Look, if you feel uncomfortable swearing in mixed company, then don't.  But if you do swear in mixed company, don't single out the only woman in the room and apologize. And if you do, for the love of God, don't keep doing it over and over again.

This apologizing-for-swearing thing happens to me ALL the time in professional contexts, although today was particularly bad due to the frequency.  It's disturbing to me because I want these cops and these adjusters to hire me on a repeat basis to represent them.  The best way to get them to hire me on a repeat basis is to (a) do good work and (b) be fun to work with and comfortable to be around. When the mediator or another lawyer singles me out to apologize-for-swearing, then it sends a message to my clients to be less comfortable with me because I am a woman.  Now, I don't actually think I'm going to lose business over this but who knows? Why I should be singled out like this? It's not the end of the world, but it's not cute or charming either. 


The Socratic method is the traditional mode of pedagogy in American law school classrooms.  Back in the mid '90s, it became a feminist issue -- somewhat to my consternation.

Although the term "Socratic Method" sounds fancy, it really just means that the professor teaches by questioning his or her students about their underlying assumptions.  In a typical law school class, students sit in assigned seats according to a seating chart.  During class, the professor calls on certain students at random and in a rather formal way.  Thus, my very first day in a law school class, the professor called on me, addressing me with "Ms." and my last name:  "Ms. Feminist, please identify the key issue in the case you were assigned to read."  I answered that question to the professor's satisfaction, and then he continued to question me as to whether I agreed with the court's ruling and why, and what the implications of the court's ruling might be for other cases.  Sometimes, the professor might ask whether the court's ruling should be the same under a new, hypothetical set of facts.  Sometimes the professor might lead the hapless student down the garden path, until the student realizes he has taken a position that can't be justified or that would lead to absurd results if applied to other situations. 

The Socratic method forces you to think through an issue, take a public position on that issue, and then defend your position in the face of probing questions.  It teaches you to identify your assumptions and question them.  When a professor does it well, the Socratic Method is a dazzling intellectual exercise. My pulse raced in certain classes-- even when I wasn't being called on -- just from the excitement of trying to think several steps ahead of the professor.

I was in my first year of law school in 1995, smack in the middle of all this Socratic joy, when Lani Guinier published a law review article critiquing the Socratic method on the ground that it alienates female law students.  Guinier was famously quoted for saying that the Socratic method looks to many women like "ritualized combat." Guinier later expanded her thesis into a book called Becoming Gentlemen: Women, Law School, and Institutional Change.  I have not read Guinier's book, nor have I looked at her law review article since it first came out.  I would, however, like to discuss the way in which her thesis was presented in one of my law school classrooms, as well as some of my thoughts on the Socratic method.

One of my first year professors, a terrific brassy woman who didn't shy away from combat of any type, devoted an entire class period to Guinier's ideas.  We discussed whether an adversarial or public mode of discourse favors male students at the expense of female students. The professor confessed that she sometimes hesitated to call on women students because she thought the women students appeared timid and frightened in class. She wanted to know if we women students found classroom discussion intimidating (a question that she did not ask the male students).  There was some discussion as to whether the Socratic method is "inherently sexist." 

I was appalled.  Of course having to take a position and defend it in a classroom packed with a hundred other students is going to be intimidating for a lot of people!  But the tenor of the classroom discussion that day was that somehow women were more vulnerable to being intimidated because we (allegedly) don't like conflict and because we prefer to behave in ways that are more collaborative than adversarial.  As someone who is both female and adversarial in many ways (and at the time an aspiring litigator), I was pained by the whole discussion.  Just now, in doing some internet research for this post, I found similar rhetoric in this old Feministing post which referred to "the sexist Socratic method."  (I was pleased, however, to see feminists Katha Pollitt and Mythago stick up for Socrates in the comments thread.)

After briefly scanning some of Guinier's comments around the web, however, I don't think that Guinier herself was saying that the Socratic method is inherently sexist. She was more concerned with how the Socratic method is employed in practice, and whether other techniques may also be useful. I haven't read her book but nonetheless, I am going to give my two cents on a couple of issues related to how the Socratic method is actually employed in law schools. 

First, a lot of people, including a lot of old time law professors, confuse the Socratic method with contempt and ridicule. In "The Paper Chase," that famous 1973 movie about law school, the professor says to the first year law student in front of the entire class: "Mr. Hart, here is a dime. Take it, call your mother, and tell her there is serious doubt about you ever becoming a lawyer."  That is what people think of when they think of the Socratic method -- a much older professor publicly belittling a much younger student in order to toughen him up.  Another, undoubtedly sexist, example is the well-known professor who would call on a woman student every year to ask this question:  "Would it be defamation if I were to call you a DIRTY WHORE?" (Imagine the volume of his voice hitting a crescendo on the last two words.) But this kind of professorial thuggishness is not inherent to the Socratic method.  It is actually an abuse of the Socratic method, which properly uses politely probing questions that continue until the weaknesses in the student's reasoning become obvious to the student herself.  A skilled Socratic questioner does not have to resort to intimidation.

Second, I think Guinier may be on to something, even though I dislike her generalizations about women's talents, preferences, and behavior.  Guinier is correct that a lot of people (and not just women) find the tough, public questioning in law school classrooms daunting, intimidating, and alienating.  It is unrealistic to expect a diffident person who has never had to do a lot of public speaking to suddenly spar masterfully with a leading intellect in a room of a hundred people.  Should we expect shy and retiring people to go from point A to point Z with no intermediate steps?  Or should we write off such people as inherently unfit to practice law?  Should we not care whether they develop the public speaking and debating skills that are so valuable in all areas of law, even for those attorneys who don't go into litigation?  I think a lot of people who may not take to the Socratic method off the bat could learn to excel at it with proper teaching.  So the idea of smaller group discussions leading up to the more intense traditionally Socratic approach has a lot of merit.  Why risk permanently turning off students who have an initial dislike for the Socratic approach when such students might have much to add to the legal profession?  As Guinier suggests, there is no need to be "rigidly Socratic." Law school lasts three whole years.  There is plenty of time to employ a number of classroom techniques. 

I would, however, like to see the Socratic method used more rather than less in our educational system -- in high schools and in colleges as well as law schools. I think it is an effective way to invigorate students intellectually and get them to think, as long as we are careful not to leave behind those students who are less assertive.  I also think that the great contribution of Socrates to western thought -- the notion of identifying and questioning one's own assumptions -- cannot possibly be seen as sexist.  It is in fact a great boon to women.  Women, more than any class of people, have historically been subject to all sorts of unfounded and unquestioned assumptions about our inherent nature, our proper role in society, and how we should relate to men.  Even otherwise enlightened and rigorous thinkers have, throughout history, simply accepted differential treatment of the sexes because that's "just the way things are."  But Socrates believed that even our most cherished ideas are subject to question and, as a feminist, so do I.  I heart the Socratic Method.


Conservatives constantly accuse liberals, and especially feminists, of "social engineering."  The term implies totalitarian coercion to force people's personal decisions to meet some "politically correct" mold.  Wikipedia defines "social engineering" more benignly:

Social engineering is a concept in political science that refers to efforts to influence popular attitudes and social behavior on a large scale, whether by governments or private groups.

As the Wikipedia article observes, social engineering, despite the negative connotations of the term, is not necessarily a bad thing: Virtually all law and governance has the effect of changing behavior and can be considered "social engineering" to some extent. Prohibitions on murder, rape, suicide, and littering are all policies aimed at discouraging perceived undesirable behaviors.   

Certainly, I don't think that mere influence of popular attitudes and social behavior on a large scale is per se a bad thing at all.  I would love, for example, to see more social acceptance of women's career ambitions, more social acceptance of "househusbands," and a more egalitarian division of labor on the home front in more families. 

But if we're going to talk about social engineering in terms of its negative connotation of totalitarian interference with people's personal life decisions, I'd have to say that the social conservatives are far more guilty of efforts at "social engineering" than any progressive any day of the week.  It is the social conservatives who have entire organizations devoted to the proposition that women should stay at home with their children, that men should play the protector/provider role, that people should only marry the opposite sex, and that our sex should determine the roles we play in society and in life.  And they are certainly more than willing to use our legal system and political process to force these personal mores on all of us-- as evidenced by the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, efforts to ban abortion, and the war on contraception, to give just a few examples.  It is the social conservatives who constantly talk about the wide scale societal effects of my personal choices whether to have sex and with whom, whether to have children, and how to care for my children. 

Personally, I have a strong libertarian bent.*  I would love to see more women litigators because it is better for me not to be a minority as a woman litigator.  But that doesn't mean that I would presume to demand that more women go into litigation for the sake of the collective.  The social conservative, however, does presume to demand that I marry a man and bear children for the sake of the collective.   

It seems therefore that when a conservative talks about "social engineering,"  what he really means is encouraging attitudes and practices of which he disapproves.  If one is encouraging, or even forcing, attitudes and practices which he likes, then I guess it's not social engineering. 

UPDATE:   I probably should quit using the term "libertarian" to describe myself.  I don't believe that free market forces are the means to solving most social problems, and I think that's what the term implies.   I really meant to say that I don't like the government telling me what I can and can't do unless my actions have a direct impact on others.  Thus, in my world, drug laws bad, anti-discrimination laws good, to give just one example. 


In the comments threads of the previous two posts, ballpark opines that my definition of feminism is too limited because it is a "women's perspective only" feminism, that sees only women suffering from gender penalties.  David Thompson asks if I am also a masculist.

The term "feminism" is definitely a woman-focused term.  It does indeed refer to a concern with societal structures and cultural assumptions as they affect women

But that is NOT to say that feminism precludes a concern with men's issues.  First, gender equality that benefits men too is a happy by-product of feminism.  Second, I can be a feminist AND ALSO at the same time be other things, including a "gender egalitarian," or a person who is concerned about men's issues, or racial issues, or children's issues, or virtually anything else under the sun.  For example, a high percentage of the cutting-edge U.S. feminists at the dawn of the modern women's movement were also very active in opposing the Vietnam-era draft -- an issue that, in the U.S., affected only men. 

So why a special word to emphasize my belief that women's equality in particular is a crucial priority? Frankly, I would love a world in which merely professing a belief in "human rights" were sufficient to convey that both women's and men's interest in justice.  Unfortunately, history has shown that unless women make some noise and draw some focus onto our rights or equality, women's rights and equality will not be seen as important.  I am reminded of the many first person accounts I have read by women involved in progressive activism during the sixties. In those days, women activists would raise in progressive circles the need to rectify the gross gender inequities affecting their lives at that time.  They found that they were constantly told by their progressive male colleagues to put their interests on hold -- because it was more important to focus on our boys fighting in Vietnam or the atrocities suffered by African-Americans.  Over time, it became clear that women's interest in say, an equal opportunity to participate in society, would never be taken seriously unless women themselves started their own movement with a focus on injustices suffered by women.  Thus, "the women's movement" and "feminism." 

I have discussed non-feminist issues on this blog plenty of times.  But I'll grant you that I tend to focus on issues that affect women.  As a woman who grew up in the bad old '70s, I am acutely aware of feminist issues and I think they continue to deserve awareness and attention.  But I don't see my feminism as at all inconsistent with "men's rights" (although perhaps not as expressed by your average MRA).  Thus, I may agree with a men's rights activist like bmmg39 on a lot of issues, but he is more likely to focus on gender stereotypes as they adversely affect men, and I am more likely to focus on gender stereotypes as they adversely affect women. 


I have always identified as a feminist, ever since very early childhood when I first heard the word.  It seemed to me that any self-respecting female had to be a feminist. I was blissfully unaware that the word carried any negative baggage, and even now, it shocks me when otherwise ordinary people say that the word carries negative associations for them.  To me, the word "feminist" is a shorthand way for women to say, "My rights and my dignity are important to me and I don't take them lightly and I won't compromise them."  (I provide a more comprehensive definition of feminism here. Also, as I said in the prior post men can and should be feminists too!)

When I was twelve, my dad, in an effort to nurture my professional ambitions, took me to lunch with a highly successful woman in his profession.  She was a take-charge, kick-ass kind of woman at the top of her game.  At the beginning of the lunch, my dad announced, "Happy is thinking of becoming a professional woman, but she is not a feminist."  I was mortified. I felt like I was dying a hundred deaths inside.  I imagined I saw the woman flinch a little bit. Lunch was wrecked for me. Unfortunately, I was too young and shy and awkward around adults to feel confident enough to correct my father then and there.  I have no idea what he possibly could have meant by his comment, but to me, it was as though he had said, "Happy is thinking of becoming a professional, but she definitely does not think well enough of herself to believe that she or any other woman should be a take-charge, kick-ass woman like you."  To this day, it would be terribly embarrassing for me to ever utter the words "I'm not a feminist," no matter who my audience might be. 

Now, of course, I realize that "feminism" is just a word and it means different things to different people.  As Sydney observed, many people who say, "I am not a feminist," are really saying, "I am not a hairy, man-hating lesbian."  Or maybe they are saying, "I am not a Democrat," or "I don't believe in affirmative action."  But even though I know this intellectually, the first thing I think when I hear a woman say she is not a feminist is that this woman lacks self-respect, that this woman doesn't value her rights or her dignity, that this woman wouldn't think it was such a big deal if maybe her right to credit were taken away, or her right to buy a house, or her right to work in certain professions.  To me, it's the disavowal of feminism that carries all sorts of negative baggage and connotations. 


The question of whether men can be feminists comes up from time to time in the feminist blogosphere. I like Majikthise's take on it the best. Of course, men can be feminists!  Actually, I insist that the men in my life be feminists, and I take great pleasure in informing certain men that they are in fact feminists even if they have never thought of themselves as such.   

Feminism should not be considered an exclusive ideology, but a basic position held by all enlightened people of common sense.  I see it as a great big tent.  There is no purpose in categorizing certain people as lesser feminists because they happen to have been born male.  If you truly consider women's freedom, equality of opportunity, and dignity to be CRUCIAL priorities, then you are a feminist. 

I have found, however, that a lot of men may believe in women's freedom, equality, and dignity, but fall down on the portion of the definition that calls for these to be "crucial" priorities.  Classic example are progressive Dems, often male, who believe that we shouldn't protest the nomination of anti-Roe judges because overturning Roe will motivate a groundswell of public support for more progressive candidates.  This is an anti-feminist position because it proposes sacrificing women's rights for the greater good of progressive politics.  Another example might be the Mark Starr kind of feminist who believes in feminist goals as long as women behave in a particular way.  But women can take these anti-feminist positions as well.  While women are more likely to be feminists than men, I see no reason to define feminism as including only women. 

There  is perhaps good reason to be more skeptical of men who claim to be feminists.  For obvious reasons, men will generally be less acutely aware of the inequities in society that affect women.  Men are perhaps more likely to adopt the "feminist" label for self-serving reasons, perhaps to ingratiate themselves with certain women, for example.  And there are plenty of anecdotal tales or examples of men who claim to be feminists or allies of feminists but then turn around and use the most tired anti-female stereotypes around, like this guy's statement in his comments thread about the "shrill humorlessness" of feminists. 

But my philosophy is to take men's claims to feminism at face value until there is probable cause to believe otherwise.  Ultimately, this is a discussion about semantics.  We are talking about words, and I see no cost to being as inclusive as possible.   


Some of my favorite blogs have been discussing the issue of how hard it is for women to find clothes that fit. (In fact, Alice's whole blog is called "Pants that Fit"). My husband can simply walk into a store, find jeans with his particular measurements, and buy them without even trying them on and they are guaranteed to fit.  For me, finding jeans that fit is a day-long exercise in frustration.  It seems that the difficulty in finding pants and other clothes that fit is universal among women, unless perhaps you have a boy-slender model's body. 

On this one though, I have to say, that I am not inclined to blame the patriarchy.  Clearly, clothing manufacturers have an economic incentive to try to get women to buy clothes, and it's logical that part of that is making clothes that fit.  One reason I tend to drop my money at Ann Taylor* is that, even thought it's pricey, the clothes actually seem to fit me.  That's worth paying a lot of money for! (I note that businesses also have an economic incentive to exploit the cultural imperative that women look good by creating insecurities in women about their appearance-- but this tactic is used more to market butt creams and diet drugs etc. rather than clothing itself, I think.)

I am open to theories.  I am not inclined to think that dressing room distress is psychological, as  Sara at F-Words speculates.  Even if I have poor body image, I don't think I am imagining the fact that most of the clothes I try on do not fit me.  I think that the culprit is our bodies and the fact that we are curvier and bulgier and thus more varied in more places than stick straight men are.  I think for physiological reasons it's just plain harder to make clothes that fit us, especially jeans and trousers.  That doesn't mean there is anything wrong with our bodies or that the clothing manufacturers hate us (although it sure as hell feels that way sometimes). 

Solutions?  Levi's had a program about ten years ago -- I don't know if it still exists -- where they would tailor the jeans to your body.  So you go in, and they take all your measurements and have you try on different samples, and then based on what they learn, they make your ideal jean. Then they keep your measurements on file and you can just order new jeans when you need them. It was definitely worth the cost ($50 oe so for the tailoring process plus the cost of the jeans).  I never went back and got new jeans though because I am not much of a jeans person.  (Jeans tend to be very unforgiving if you gain even a little bit of weight.)

My only complaint with the Levi's program was that the tailoring process occurred right in the middle of the store in public view.  So I had to stand on a little block while a stick skinny teenager measured the full width of my ass and the full circumference of my thighs and yelled out the numbers to the person who was helping her while other customers looked on in curiosity.

Long story short -- I'm inclined (unless someone convinces me otherwise) to let the patriarchy off the hook for my dressing room distress. But I will enumerate the following complaints:

-- Why the harsh dressing room lighting that magnifies every flaw?

-- Why do women's clothes so often lack any POCKETS?

-- Why on earth do I have to shop in a special, less well-stocked section of the store called "petite" when I am the exact height (5'4") of the average American woman?

*Inspired by an astute comment at Feministing, I did a quick internet search and learned that yes indeedy Ann Taylor has been subject to claims of exploiting sweatshop workers in China.  Aaaaarrrrghh.  The one place with clothes that fit!  Is Ann Taylor really truly bad?  Does anyone know the scoop on them?  Anyone know of a label for socially conscious businesswomen who want attractive clothes that fit??? 


So I was channel surfing last night and I got sucked in to a reality show about a competition to choose the ultimate bartender for Coyote Ugly.  For those of you who don't know, Coyote Ugly is a famous New York City bar that has become a franchise in a number of cities around the U.S.  Its schtick is hard liquor, country music, hard classic rock, and beautiful female bartenders who do choreographed dances on the bar and offer body shots (where you suck the booze out of the bartender's navel).  I have never been that interested in Coyote Ugly because it's a chain, and chains are always gimmicky and canned.  Nonetheless, I found myself drawn in to the reality show by the personality of Coyote Ugly's founder and owner, Liliana "Lil" Lovell.  (She has a blog here and there is a very good article about her and her bar here.)

Lovell is a classic example of a tough, brassy woman, the kind of woman I am not but whom I really admire.  Lovell is all about getting stuff done, and getting it done right-- HER way.  She is always absolutely sure that her way is the right way (and I imagine it is since she is making money hand over fist).  She doesn't care if people like her.  She doesn't worry about sparing people's feelings.  If she has something critical to say to someone, she says it bluntly.  She makes no effort to soften her message.  Employees strive to earn her praise because they know her praise means something. 

I have been lucky enough to know a few brassy chicks like this.  I always try to cultivate them and learn from them.  Because whatever it is that makes them brassy, I don't have it.  I am hardly ever really certain that my way is the right way, and I am quite easily persuaded that others know better than I do.  And I absolutely hate making other people feel inadequate or stupid unless it's in a formal context like a trial or unless the person has really offended me.  I also tend to make excuses for people and not expect very much from others.  I excel at tact and diplomacy but sometimes at the expense of getting my message across or having things happen the way I want them to happen.

The secret of brassy chicks I have discovered is two-fold: (1)  A lot of it is just constitutional.  That's just how they are made.  I can't try to remake myself into a brassy chick because that is just not who I am.  Brassiness would not work for me because it would be fake.  I can, however, incorporate some of their moves into my repertoire for use when appropriate.  (2)  The real secret though is that brassy chicks are driven.  Lovell herself said on her blog, "I am not mean. I am driven."  The brassy chick puts her mission (such as building a successful bar) above everything else.  She is not going to worry about your feelings if soothing your feelings will compromise what she is trying to accomplish. 

This makes sense to me because, as I write this, I realize that I DO have an inner brassy chick.  My inner brassy chick comes out in only one situation, though -- when I am in trial.  A jury trial is an all-consuming event and, when I am in trial, the trial becomes the most important thing in the world to me.  I don't give a crap about anything or anyone as long as the things necessary to try the case successfully fall into place the way I want them too.  It is total focus-- which means I bark orders, I make demands, and I turn police officers who are testifying for me into quivering masses of jelly who WILL show up on time and WILL have a good attitude and WILL remember all the facts from their police reports.  I don't care if everyone ends up hating me as long as the trial goes smoothly, the exhibits are ready, the witnesses are on time, etc.  As soon as the trial is over, I return to my easy-going self. A real brassy chick is like this all the time.

Of course, another insight I have reached is that being brassy isn't always the greatest thing.  Last year, I worked with a new associate in my law firm who was a brassy chick.  She had a super-loud voice and she was so confident that she would tell senior partners in staff meetings that their ideas or policies were stupid.  The partners mostly loved getting a frank opinion from an entry-level associate, and they also figured that if she was so assertive with them that she would be just as assertive in adversarial situations with opposing counsel.  She was the darling of the firm.  But there were times when she offended people unnecessarily to the detriment of getting things done.  After one of these occasions , she came to me and said she wished she could learn how to get her point across in a more tactful way like me!  I was so flattered that a  brassy chick (even a much younger one) wanted to learn something from me that I almost fell out of my chair. 

But she was right.  A smart person (of either sex) should cultivate both brassiness and diplomacy and use whichever is appropriate to the situation.  I suspect most of us, at least most of us women, are more comfortable with diplomacy and need to work on stepping up the brassiness.  There are other personality types who need to work on stepping up the sensitivity.  Since I am in the former category, I will always love and look up to brassy chicks and try to learn from them. 

NOTE:  I should note that not all brassy chicks are feminists.  One of the brassiest chicks I ever knew was an elderly lady in my grandmother's conservative Texas church.  She was at her brassiest when railing against the idea of women ushers or women pastors.  Liliana Lovell is arguably more like an old-time madam/saloonkeeper than a true feminist.  But I do think the persona and the conduct of the brassy chick is very feminist even if she is not herself espousing feminist ideas.   


Apparently.  Or at least that's the subtext of Mark Starr's Newsweek opinion piece annoyingly titled, "Girls Gone Wild," a story about a recent hazing incident by the Northwestern Women's Soccer team. (Hat Tip: Pandagon)  He says:

Once upon a time, the dream of the feminist movement was one of equal opportunity. They didn’t want to be like men, just to have the same chances. There was an implication, a faith inherent in that aspiration, that not only could they perform the same jobs, master the same subjects and play the same games but that they would do it in a fashion that might be better for our society. The conceit was that they would imbue all they touched with a women’s sensibility, which would be more nuanced, more empathetic and, ultimately, more humane . . .

. . . [T]he ascension of women hasn’t produced anything remotely as glorious as the feminists or I once contemplated. It turns out that power corrupts with no apparent regard for gender, that ambition can be indiscriminately corrosive, that competitiveness brings out the best in both men women—and, apparently, the worst. There is plenty of evidence now that women at the helm of a nation are every bit as tough and bloody-minded as their male counterparts, that female soldiers can also defile their honor codes, that women corporate bosses can be petty tyrants and that women athletes will resort to steroids and abuse their bodies to excel inand sports.

Well, I guess feminism failed. It turned out that we women are not more angelic than men.  Therefore, there is no justification for us to run for office, sit on corporate boards, play sports, or participate fully in society.  I will immediately give up my rights since they are clearly unnecessary. 

Sigh.  Yes, I know there is or was a strain of feminism that subscribed to the notion that women would exercise rights and power in a kinder and more humane way.  I don't believe that that is the case, but who knows.  Perhaps, a female-dominated society would be more ethical.  We don't know because this is not a female-dominated society, even if a few women have ascended to positions of power.  But I don't really want to find out if a matriarchy would do better than a patriarchy because I don't believe that one sex should ever dominate the other. 

You see, equal rights need no justification.  Why should women need to prove that they are worthy of being treated like full members of society who have ambitions to earn money and play soccer and engage in all the other activities available to men? The right of women as a class to do these things should never be contingent on women acting like sweetness and light. 

Thus, I don't see any "irony" in women who have equal rights behaving badly, as people are wont to comment.  There is no irony unless you believe that women's angelic behavior justifies equal rights.  I don't think that women's angelic behavior is necessary to justify equal rights because I see equal rights as a good in and of itself.

As a side note, I also take issue with Starr's assumption that the women athletes on the Northwestern University Women's soccer team "appear to be mimicking the basest instincts of male athletes, embracing a pathetic notion that predicates acceptance on the willingness to share humiliating rituals." (Emphasis added). Boy, this guy just won't let us off our pedestal.  Apparently, men have base instincts whereas women don't-- but we mimic them.  Now, I am sure that the notion of hazing originated on male sports teams, but to reduce women's bad behavior to mere mimicry is another way of dehumanizing us.  I see this assumption in a lot of different contexts, including the notion that women who engage in binge drinking, anonymous sex, or swearing are "mimicking men."  It couldn't possibly be that women have base instincts too and that perhaps, just perhaps, some of us actually engage in binge drinking, anonymous sex, and swearing because these are pleasurable activities? While I don't necessarily recommend these activities (except swearing which provides a relief denied even to prayer), I resent the notion that women couldn't possibly want to do these things for themselves.  Since we exist only in relation to men, the thinking goes, it must be that we are trying to be like them.

At Salon's Broadsheet, there is a take down of a similar piece by Frank Deford at NPR's Morning Edition.  For some reason, I wasn't able to listen to the Deford piece but, according to Salon, he says:  We had hoped when women started coming into sports in large numbers after the passage of Title IX that they would improve the institution, investing it with the finer feminine values. So far the results seem to indicate that instead sports has won, and womanhood has lost.

Turn in your cleats, girls. We wouldn't want womanhood to lose, would we?


I know everyone has been piling on to National Review Online writer John Derbyshire lately but his latest comments (that became the subject of discussion towards the end of the Pandagon thread) have me, as usual and like everyone else, slapping my hand against my forehead:

Now I shall get even further behind.  I have to go to my son's school to talk to the Dean about an "incident."  Apparently Danny's been fighting.  My immediate thought on that was: "Great! Has he been WINNING?"  But of course that is "inappropriate" in the girlified public-school systems of today.  The kiddies are supposed to "work out" their "issues." 

I'd like to "work out" my "issues" with the school Dean the old-fashioned way.  Unfortunately, it's a woman, so I have to sit there like a good, cowed, law-abiding, middle-class American doofus and listen to how unnacceptably boyish my boy is.  I hate the modern world. 

Oh my.  So apparently acting like a peacable civilized human being is to be (quel horreur!) GIRLIFIED.  Nothing worse than being girlified.  No, it's far better for schools to tolerate violence among students than to encroach on the sacred propensities of those students who happen to have a penis. 

I always thought it was the conservatives who were supposed to be up in arms about the decline of discipline in modern schools.  But apparently that concern for discipline does not apply if it is a boy indulging in his naturally boyish tendencies to bully and beat on others.  Because anything "boyish" must be good and anyone who takes issue with boyish violence must be anti-male!

(Of course, unlike Derbyshire, I don't happen to believe that violence is either universally or exclusively a male propensity -- per my post below.) 


Check out this story about two elderly women who are believed to have taken in two homeless men and murdered them after obtaining insurance policies on their lives.  It reminded me of another story Tango Man brought to my attention a couple weeks ago about a shoot out in Italy among rival Mafiosi -- all female:

Two carloads of female gangsters careered around narrow roads between small towns, exchanging machine gun and pistol fire and terrifying passing motorists . . . Two of the dead women involved in the incident between the rival Cava and Graziano clans were grandmothers . . .

Or this other Mafia story, also from Tango Man about the arrest of high-level Italian Mafia boss Maria Licciardi, one of Italy's 30-most wanted criminals, described as a "50-year old matriarch."  As my mother likes to say, "They don't make little old ladies like they used to." 

I am neither a criminologist nor a sociologist, but my impression certainly is that criminality is becoming more prevalent in women of all ages, particularly in terms of violence and organized crime.  That is the argument made in the story about Licciardi.  Stories like this one track the rise in reported cases of vicious assaults by the younger segment of the female population, adolescent girls. 

What are feminists to make of this?   First, let me be clear.  I am a law-and-order type who disapproves strongly of both violence and organized crime.  I believe (and I don't think this is especially controversial) that girls and women who engage in such activity should be vigorously prosecuted on the same basis as men, without regard to gender. 

At the same time, however, that I find myself profoundly disturbed by the descriptions of girls beating each other to a pulp (just as I am disturbed by similar accounts of violence among men), I also recognize that equality in criminal behavior signifies growing equality among the sexes in society.  Girls and women are not the morally superior "angel in the house" sugar-n-spice creatures we were believed in the past to be.  Increasing confidence, freedom of movement, and physicality among the female half of the human race has led to greater representation of women in all sorts of traditionally male spheres-- from politics to science to business to sports and virtually every other human endeavor.  It stands to reason that women would also participate more in crime. 

While death and destruction are never something to cheer about, society's increasing recognition of women's full humanity is.  Full humanity, of course, means just that -- women having the freedom to achieve the heights and plumb the depths of human behavior on an equal basis with men.


Maybe I am just perverse, but it seems that my whole life my desires and propensities have rarely matched up with societal expectations, whether as a child or as a woman.  My personal experience being unable to relate to how I was expected to feel is one reason that I am suspicious of blanket pronouncements about what is best for the children or what women really want. These pronouncements simply aren't true in every case. Consider:

AGE 3 - I desperately want to go to nursery school.  My stay-at-home mother doesn't necessarily want me to go, but she finally got sick of my begging and gave in.  I finally got to start going to school the year before kindergarten.  I was thrilled to have some place to go every day and to be interacting with other kids.

AGE 7 - This is about the time I started praying for my parents to divorce.  I was cognizant of the fact that a divorce would change our lifestyle.  I knew that we wouldn't have as much money and that my mother would have to go back to work. I knew world travel and boarding school might no longer be possibilities if my father were out of the picture.  But to me divorce was still my ultimate fantasy. Imagine my horror when my father confided in me years later that my mother had stayed in the marriage primarily for my sake.  Gaaaah.  I can't bear to tell her now -- so long after the fact -- that the best thing she could have done as a mother would have been to get the hell out of Dodge. 

AGE 10 -- My mother re-enters the work force.  I become a "latchkey kid."  I am thrilled.  Sure, I miss my mother in the afternoons, but I believed that having her own income would give her more power in our home.  I also hoped that it might be the first step towards that divorce I wanted. 

ADULTHOOD -- My experience with pre-marital sex, although it was part of an unhappy relationship with a sexist man, was primarily positive.  I didn't feel that sleeping with a man on the first date was somehow degrading to me (it takes two to tango after all) or that every sexual experience had to be about "true love."

ADULTHOOD -- I have yet to experience any kind of particular yearning for marriage or children.  Although I did in fact get married young (because the circumstances were right), marriage had never been something I had fantasized about or yearned for.  My feelings about babies are the same.  I am not necessarily averse to having children if the circumstances are right, but it is not something that I view as essential or that I have any kind of deep longing for.  I am one of those "childless by default" women, but I don't necessarily view that as a bad thing.


While I strive to be fair-minded and rational in all areas of my life, I will admit that I do have a litmus test for judging men. I am profoundly suspicious of men who dislike Katharine Hepburn. 

My grandfather nurtured a passionate dislike for Hepburn and refused to see any of her movies.  When asked why, he said she was arrogant and that her manner grated on him. 

My Deeply Sexist Ex-boyfriend was just as passionate in his dislike for Hepburn.  He used to mock her "arrogance" too, especially upon the release of her autobiography, entitled "Me."  He would trill, "Meeeeeeeeee!  It's all  about Meeeeeeeeeee!"  He would follow up this mockery with a charming comment like, "I can't stand that bitch."  I was always puzzled and disturbed by his feelings on the matter because I couldn't see that Hepburn was any more self-centered than any other major celebrity.

I can't help but see this dislike for Hepburn, particularly in its intensity, as a rejection of her persona as an independent, outspoken woman.  That's what Hepburn is famous for -- her persona as a woman who does and says what she wants without pandering to men.  In short, I believe to this day that my grandfather and ex-boyfriend hated her because she was too "uppity." 

Early on in my relationship with my husband, I insisted on renting a Hepburn movie just so I could judge his reaction.  If he had refused or said anything derogatory about her, our relationship would have been over immediately. 


Many of my colleagues, most of them male, seem to be reproducing.  I enjoy absorbing by osmosis the happiness and excitement of the expectant fathers.  I enjoy making helpful suggestions as to baby names, although no one seems to like my suggestions. (What's wrong with Herbert, Hermione, Oscar or Bertha anyway?)  And, of course, it's fun to meet the babies once they arrive or look at their pictures. 

What I find irritating however is all the lame joking when a girl baby arrives on the scene.  The fathers with baby girls joke about not ever letting them date or not ever letting them out of the house.  The fathers with boys joke that they are relieved because they would be too worried all the time if they had a daughter.  I once challenged a good friend of mine, the father of a bouncing baby boy, when he made such a statement.  He gave me a lot of nonsense about how girls are more vulnerable to rape and pregnancy, and then made more jokes about how, if he does ever have a daughter, she's never leaving the house until she's thirty. 

Of course, on one level all of this is just harmless, light hearted water cooler banter.  On another level, however, it reflects a totally irrational anxiety about SEX, and women and girls being sullied by SEX, and men on some level or another equating women and girls with SEX. 

Sure, my friend tried to put a veneer of rationality over this weird view of daughters, but it really makes no sense. First, I think it's baloney and that this fatherly overprotectiveness isn't quite so well thought out as all that.  Second, if there is a danger that our daughters might get raped or pregnant, there is a corresponding danger that our sons might be doing the raping and the impregnating.  While the burdens of rape and pregnancy certainly weigh more heavily on the girl or woman, it would also be pretty awful if your son raped someone or became a teenaged father.  Thirdly, our sons are probably in far more danger than our daughters when they go out into the world.  Middle school and high school boys are far more likely than girls to engage in risky behaviors and more likely to engage in multiple risky behaviors, like substance abuse, fighting, carrying illegal weapons, or attempting suicide according to this study by the Urban Institute (see pages 4 and 5).  And, according to this article, three out of every four suicides are men and two out of every three motor vehicle fatalities are men (many of them in single vehicle accidents in which the car ran off the road into an object like a tree).  When you hear about a drunken college student falling off the roof of a building or a daredevil kid dying after trying some dangerous stunt, don't you automatically assume it was a boy?  And doesn't your assumption usually turn out to be correct?  And don't forget that boys and men are statistically more likely to be assaulted than girls and women.  You don't generally hear about women getting beaten up in bar fights, nor are women as likely to get mugged.

Yet it's our daughters, not our sons, we get all freaked out about. The only reason for this double standard is our twisted discomfort with women's sexual agency.  Cringe-inducing banter at the water cooler is only the tip of the iceberg as far as the evil consequences of this double standard. I think to be fair to our children of both sexes we (and by we, I especially mean you fathers out there) need to show more respect for our daughters' agency and ability to fend for themselves, and we also need to show a bit more concern for our sons and what they are doing and feeling.  Parental protectiveness of children is surely a good thing if sensibly applied, but this nonsensical double standard doesn't help anyone. 


More reading on this topic:

1)  Amanda at Pandagon exposes this pathological fatherly protectiveness in this post when she deconstructs the following excerpt from an article at Renew America:

A chief aspect of civilization is the propagation of a society through its families and social customs. Modern western civilizations have always been held apart from third world nations and past monarchist or despotic societies because of the special standing that their girl children have had. Particularly the protective status that our little girls are accorded is one of the civilizing factors that separates us from the more brutal, uncaring societies where girls are treated as mere playthings, slaves or, worse yet, a curse on a family.

For many generations we have considered our girls as something to protect, to be kept pure and free of the ravages of a hard life until they are ready to enter into the world properly prepared. “Daddy’s little girl” is placed on a pedestal and we men joke of sending our little girls to a convent to keep them from those predatory boyfriends. After all, we were ourselves once young men full of raging hormones and we know exactly what those boys want with our little girls. Immediately thoughts of this send men in our society into protector mode.

We want to be sure that our girls are not mistreated, that they have loving husbands who will provide for them. And when the time comes for them to have children of their own, we Fathers want to be sure that our little girls will be comfortable and safe to raise theirs, as they ought.

Our cave man urges rise to the side of our daughters.

Or as Amanda puts it:

To summarize: The best way for men to avoid acting like men in less advanced countries is to be cavemen, since nothing says not primitive like being primitive. And the best way to avoid treating your daughter like a piece of property is to treat her like a piece of fairly expensive property. And the best way to protect girls from perverted men who can’t think of women as full human beings is to put those same kind of men in charge of them. And there’s nothing gross about a man who says, “I know what those perverts are thinking about my daughter, because I’ve had the same thoughts.”

With that kind of sharp thinking on its side, it’s a wonder the patriarchy managed to last a week, much less millenia.

p>2)  A while back, also in a Pandagon thread, there was some interesting conversation (started by me admittedly) regarding those old hackneyed jokes about the protective father who puts the fear of God into his daughter's boyfriend to ensure that daughter's boyfriend doesn't try any funny business with his little girl.  These jokes always drive me bananas for the reasons I explained in my comments.  The valiant Mythago also waded into battle on this one and, as always, she did a bang up job. 


My grandfather's parents were "Beatrice" and "Giuseppe."  The grew up together in southern Italy in the 1880s and 1890s.  When they were children, they used to go to school at the same time, although to different schools.  On the way to school, Giuseppe used to weave in and out of the tiny side streets and then pop out in front of Beatrice to tease her.  Sometimes he would go to her house with his little white dog (with bells on the collar) to try to catch a glimpse of her at the window.  Sometimes he would go to her window with a few friends to try to serenade her, but her brothers would go to the upper windows and throw water on them. 

When they became teenagers, Giuseppe's aunt would go from house to house doing women's hair.  When Giuseppe's aunt went to Beatrice's house, she would bring Beatrice messages from Giuseppe.  At the time Giuseppe was an apprentice tailor.  Beatrice spent a lot of time weaving cloth to sell in order to fund her dowry. 

One day, Giuseppe's father (a jeweler) came to call on Beatrice's father.  Beatrice was terribly excited at the possibility that they might discuss her romance with Giuseppe. She listened to their conversation from behind the door.  To her immense frustration, all they talked about was bird hunting.  Just as he was leaving, however, Giuseppe's father asked if Giuseppe could have permission to call on Beatrice.  Beatrice's father agreed.

Giuseppe duly called on Beatrice on a number of occasions, but he and Beatrice hardly spoke to each other at all during these visits.  She just sat by the fire and knit, while he talked to her parents.  Eventually, Giuseppe and Beatrice married in 1900.  In 1901, they became proud parents of my grandfather, and immigrated to the United States the same year. 

Beatrice was raised to take care of the men-folk and to function as a second mother to her rather wild brothers.  Throughout her childhood and adolescence, she would knit a woolen sock every night before she went to bed, because the boys wore them out so fast.  Beatrice lived until 1966 and enjoyed a very close relationship with my father, who was her oldest grandson.  My father recalls that his grandmother felt very strongly that the males in the family should be waited on.  If my father were ever going to bring a chair from the kitchen to the dining room for example, his grandmother would make him stop and would tell one of his aunts to do it instead.  My father was never to pick up his plate or carry any platters, but rather was expected to allow his aunts and female cousins to serve him and the other males.  A typical old-world grandma, Beatrice was very hard on her daughters while coddling her son and grandsons.  Family wisdom has it that the reason two of my great-aunts never married was that Beatrice insisted that they stay with her to take care of her in her old age. 

In 1929, Beatrice's oldest son, my grandfather, married my grandmother, a progressive, birth-control-loving, Jewish feminist.  I can't imagine that there was much love lost between my grandmother and my great-grandmother.  Apparently Beatrice's "my son can do no wrong" mentality won out, and my unconventional grandmother was tolerated at family gatherings.


Actually the Italian side of my family is not from Sicily, but I couldn't resist "The Golden Girls" reference as a way to introduce this family history post.  My whole life my father has been researching, writing and polishing a massive Italian family history.  I suppose it is not surprising that there was no feminist consciousness among my Italian forbears of the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  The tale of my grandfather's grandparents' "courtship" in southern Italy in 1865 is a bit rough:

The family story is that my tall and handsome Great-great-grandfather ("Luigi") was 28 years old when he fell in love with a tiny 14 year old girl who was to become my Great-great-grandmother ("Marianna").  (My elderly relatives all attribute my small bones and freakishly small hands to Marianna's genetic legacy.)  When Marianna's parents died, her older sisters had already been married off, but she was too young so she was placed in a convent orphanage.  (She was Catholic unlike my paternal line.)  The nuns taught her needlework and she became immensely proficient at embroidery, silk spinning, and crocheting. 

Marianna often sat in the convent garden and Luigi happened to see her on a number of occasions when he would walk by.  He fell in love with her on sight.  Since Marianna was 14, and too young to be married, Luigi rode a horse into the building where she was sewing one day and abducted her.  He took her off to another town and married her that night.  Even though she was so young, he knew that once they were married, the priests and nuns would not annul the marriage. 

Marianna and Luigi were my grandfather's grandparents.  I heard this story from my grandfather when I was growing up.  He heard it from his parents and from Marianna and Luigi themselves (they died in 1936 and 1915 respectively).  Family tradition is unclear as to whether Marianna and Luigi had ever talked before he abducted her.  It is also unclear as to whether Marianna consented to the abduction. I guess no one thought that those were important questions to ask! I like to think that it was assumed that she consented to the abduction. 


I am disturbed by this old editorial in the Guardian, which I found when I was writing my last post on Austen.  Cherry Potter expresses concern that Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice remains straight women's "favourite fictional romantic icon." As she notes, he is the character 1,900 women across the generations most want to date, according to a recent poll by the Orange Prize for Fiction. Potter believes this predilection for Mr. Darcy, especially among "educated literary feminist women," reflects confusion about what women really want.  But Potter -- like Elizabeth Benet herself -- has utterly misread Mr. Darcy, assuming that he is the "epitome of the dominant patriarchal male," and that upon marriage he will turn out to be "rigid, dominating and controlling."

I myself sighed quite a few yearning sighs over Mr. Darcy when I first read Pride and Prejudice as a teenager.  But my fantasies had nothing to do with deep down wanting a patriarchal, dominating or controlling man.  They had to do with a desire for total admiration from someone worthy to give it. 

Mr. Darcy is sexy and compelling because he is a strong and powerful figure and also because he respects the strength and power of Elizabeth Bennet.  Despite the fact that Elizabeth Bennet is rather unglamorous (with very embarrassing relatives, looks not quite up to par with her sister's, and very little wealth), Mr. Darcy sees her true worth.  Elizabeth Bennet is Mr. Darcy's equal in intelligence, wit, sense, and character, and Mr. Darcy loves her for it. The fantasy is to win the utter respect, admiration and passion of a man of great intelligence and great character, especially a man who is not easily won. 

Far from being dominating or controlling, Mr. Darcy does not presume that he can dictate anything to Elizabeth Bennet.  When she rejects his first proposal, he is surprised (and angry at her uncivil manner in refusing him), but he takes "no" for an answer. He also later comes to understand why she was insulted by his proposal.  When changed circumstances lead him to propose a second time, he promises never to bother her again if she doesn't want him.  His behavior contrasts favorably with that of Mr. Collins who refuses to believe her when she tells him she doesn't want him. 

Mr. Darcy also compares favorably to other romantic literary heroes.  Gone With the Wind's Rhett Butler slaps Scarlett O'Hara around, and he ridicules and patronizes her throughout their relationship.  He loves her passionately but without any attendant respect or admiration.  Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights is a controlling "batterer" type, indulging in terrible cruelty when his obsessive, all-consuming love-hate relationship with Catherine is not satisfied. 

While Potter believes that "no wonder men are confused" by the modern-day Darcy fixation, in fact, Mr. Darcy is the perfect feminist romantic hero.  His example gives lie to the notion that feminism is about wanting a weak and malleable romantic partner.  His example also gives lie to the notion that even self-professed feminist women really want to be dominated by men.  It's really quite simple: the best romances are between strong people who appreciate each other's strength and Jane Austen recognized that truth two whole centuries ago.   

(NOTE:  In light of recent blogging against heteronormativity, I am trying to figure out how to make this post not so heteronormative.  On the one hand, I was thinking of qualifying the post by stating that Mr. Darcy is the perfect romantic hero for heterosexual feminist women.  On the other hand, I have no reason to assume that only straight women yearn for a partner like Mr. Darcy.  I say this as someone who once had a mad crush on a remote and mysterious woman who was rather like Mr. Darcy in many ways.)   

UPDATED:  I am feeling all embarrassed and shy and pleased by Amanda's post on this post.  How great to wake up first thing in the morning to find nice things about yourself on the internet! And this on the mark observation:

And the book makes the case that often the best personalities sometimes are initially the most caustic.  For feminist women, many of whom are used to threatening people all the time with our unwillingness to show female submission, that’s a very alluring message.

Do check out the great comments thread after her post about people's favorite romantic couples from books and film.


I just spent a lovely morning immersed in the intricacies of how a gas heating system is constructed and how a fire-cause-and-origin expert goes about the process of forming his opinion.  As I mentioned, I am very excited to be handling a fire lawsuit as this was a type of law I had hoped to become more involved in at my last firm.

And of course, this has gotten me thinking about the subject of gender when it comes to specialties within litigation.  When I first started at my former law firm, I was assigned to the Employment Litigation practice group and Legal Malpractice Defense.  Our firm (which did litigation only) was only 20% women attorneys, and all of the women attorneys did employment litigation.  I was a little concerned at first that I was being assigned to some sort of pink collar ghetto, just because it was weird that every single attorney in the group was a woman (except for the leader of the group) and it was weird that every woman in the firm was involved in Employment law.

Employment Litigation was, however, a good fit for me in terms of my skills because a lot of employment cases hinge on credibility issues, just like my criminal law cases.  Employment Litigation also involves a lot of fact investigation and informal interviewing of witnesses which was also similar to what I had done as a prosecutor.   My concerns were also somewhat alleviated by the fact that Employment Litigation is a high paying practice area and that the legal issues involved are both complex and interesting.  I also wound up doing work on construction law cases, fire and explosion cases, and some commercial litigation, but Employment Litigation always remained the area in which I was most associated.

Nonetheless, the heavy female involvement in Employment Litigation niggled at me the whole time I was at the firm.  While many of my colleagues assured me that Employment Litigation is a perfectly respectable and valuable area in which to practice, somehow it seemed more petty to be dealing with the question of whether a supervisor called his employee an “old lush” (a typical employment law scenario) than whether there are grounds for rescission of a construction contract.  On the other hand perhaps I was the one being sexist by seeing less value in a practice area dominated by women.

Another issue:  My firm may have preferred to have women attorneys represent companies accused of discrimination because female representation subtly counteracts the impression that these companies are hostile to groups that traditionally suffer discrimination. (I should note that very, very few of our cases involved allegations of sex discrimination, however.) In one particular instance, my male boss told me that he wanted me to handle a mediation in which our client was going to try to settle a claim brought by a young woman.  My boss thought the plaintiff was more likely to be receptive to my efforts to settle the case because I was myself young and female.  I didn’t really mind that tactic because -- hey, when you’re trying to achieve a particular result for your client you try to use every ethical tool at your disposal.  On reflection, however, it is troubling when one’s value to a case is explicitly tied to one’s gender.

One also questions why more women (at least in my firm) weren’t assigned to deal with more technical areas involving specialized knowledge and forensic evidence.  I certainly would have been most pleased to focus on construction litigation or fire-and-explosion cases (and my fire-and-explosion mentor even requested that I be assigned to him), but somehow that never happened.  I think there are a variety factors that may have played into my not working on those more “masculine” types of cases, so I don’t want to be too hasty in yelling sexism.  But, in all honesty, I can’t help but wonder whether sexism may have been a factor too.

I was ready, willing, and able to deal with the “harder” types of cases and expressed that to all the right people.  But somehow I was always been steered towards the “softer” types of litigation, despite my stated interests and enthusiasm.  Although obviously my experience is purely anecdotal, it leads me to question the notion that women are naturally more attracted to certain fields while men are naturally more attracted to others.  Now I haven’t fought tooth and nail to handle particular types of cases. I am not so enamored of fire-and-explosion-law that it’s breaking my heart not to be specializing in it. Nonetheless, I would have been perfectly happy to develop a specialty in this area.

NOTE:  I have not come to any firm conclusions about my experience.  Nor am I claiming that this is more than just my experience and impressions.

SECOND NOTE:  At my current firm, I practice primarily in the area of defending police departments, particularly with regard to alleged civil rights violations.  I believe I am the only woman in my state who defends these types of cases.  This type of law also dovetails nicely with my experience as a prosecutor but I think it is perceived as more "masculine" perhaps because our clients are all police officers, which is an overwhelmingly male dominated profession.   


When I first started to explore the conservative Christian blogosphere, I was surprised to learn how much affection there is among these folks for my very own Jane Austen.  If there is one thing extreme social conservatives and raving feminists have in common, it is a strong affection for Jane.  I suspect, however, that we see quite different things in her novels. 

The thing is that Jane Austen harshly criticized the social structures of her era but she was no revolutionary.  She wrote in a clear-eyed fashion about the very unromantic consequences of complete female dependence.  Notwithstanding the frothy, lighthearted surface of many of her novels, she always makes it quite clear that the marriage and courtship game was one of great and serious risk for women.  Refuse a man's proposal and you might well wind up enduring a lifetime of poverty and humiliating spinsterhood.  Austen, however, never proposed any alternatves to the strictures placed on women.  All of her heroines, spirited though some of them were, operated within the confines of their societal roles.

The lack of any open rebellion against patriarchal norms in Austen allows social conservatives to embrace her as one of their own.  Pride & Prejudice ends with a happy marriage, exults Charlotte Allen of the Independent Women's Forum.  The Feminists must hate that!   And oh how wonderfully chaste and "proper" the manners were in those days, notes Plugged In, the Focus on the Family online entertainment magazine. (That is assuming one considers it "proper" to obsessively discuss other people's income and to make material considerations primary when assessing another person's suitability as a marriage partner.)  Such interpretations, of course, completely overlook the fact that much of what conservatives love about Austen were simply conventions of her time (like the title "Mrs.," the fact that Austen remained in her father's household into adulthood or the fact that Mr. Bennet was the "head" of his house).  The areas in which Austen deviates from the conventions of her time however reveal the heart of a feminist forerunner. 

The agency with which Austen invests her female protagonists -- even in the face of unimaginable social and material pressures -- is in and of itself feminist.  In Pride & Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet refuses to pander to Mr. Darcy, even though he was an eligible bachelor of rank and wealth, well situated to rescue her from a difficult future.  Ultimately, when Lizzie finally wins Mr. Darcy, it is not  because he has been captivated by her "fine eyes," but because he respects her intelligence, respects her spirit, and repsects her character. 

Even more impressive, Elizabeth Bennet declines quite decisively a marriage proposal from the dreadful and pompous Mr. Collins.  It is impossible to overstate what a gutsy move this is for Lizzie Bennett. Due to the quirk in the manner in which her father had inherited the house in which they all lived, Lizzie and her mother and her four sister were all to be turned out off the house upon the death of their father so that the house could pass to Mr. Collins.  And still Lizzie said no to Mr. Collins's proposal.  Jane Austen wrote this chapter in the most hilarious way possible -- with the condescending Mr. Collins refusing to take Lizzie's refusal seriously ("I shall chuse to attribute [your rejection of me] to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.") and Lizzie insisting, "Do not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart."  Jane Austen may have been the first woman to insistently make the political point that No Means No! 

I don't mean for my discussion of Austen to be overly divisive.  There is something for everyone to love in Austen whether you are a feminist or not.  One loves Austen not only for the spiritedness of her protagonists and harsh social critique, but for her witty dialogue, the intimate portrait of domestic life in this period, strong characterization, and her basic values regarding the development and honing of one's character and behavior.  One romanticizes Austen's time and place at one's peril, however.  While there is no way to know what Austen would have thought about modern day feminism, she definitely didn't let the patriarchy off the hook and for that, among other things, I will always love her. 

NOTE:  I found some good stuff while I was surfing around to see what other feminist bloggers have to say about Jane.  This review by Bad Feminist of the recent Pride & Prejudice movie starring Keira Knightley is right on target.  And a major Austen fan, Amanda at Pandagon, notes about the movie as well:

. . . it irritated me to no end that Austen’s delicate portrayal of Charlotte Lucas’ decision to marry Mr. Collins was changed from a sad statement on the state of women to a tedious swipe at women who had to make unfortunate choices under oppression. And that’s mostly because the filmmakers’ didn’t want to trouble the audience with the idea that Mrs. Bennet’s desperation to marry off her daughters might have more to it than just a stereotypically shallow love of weddings.

SECOND NOTE:  The other reason Austen qualifies as feminist is that she's funny as hell.  She's exhibit A in opposition to the old canard that women aren't funny.


Back when I was an adolescent, I militated against the idea that the lack of female role models in certain disciplines is a problem for young girls.  I felt vaguely insulted at the notion that I was expected to identify only with people of the same sex as I.  At thirteen, when I had to write an essay about my role models, I made a point of including Leonardo da Vinci as well as Elizabeth I.   I felt that there was no reason I shouldn't be just as inspired by or identify just as strongly with a man of achievement as a woman of achievement. 

But if I tell the truth, I have to admit that my inclusion of Leonardo, wonderful though he was, was a bit forced compared to my obsession with Elizabeth I and my strong sense of identification with her.  And when I look back at my childhood, I realize I was desperately searching everywhere for examples of powerful women.  What a sense of vindication and triumph I felt when we finally got to Elizabeth I when my mother and I were reading about the monarchs of England!  How I hung on every word uttered by Margaret Thatcher and Jeanne Kirkpatrick!  How frustrated I was when rebellious female heroines in literature seemed to give in, like Jo in Little Women. 

And there's another interesting phenomenon I have noticed lately.  When I am channel surfing I am far more likely to stop and listen to Condoleezza Rice or Laura Bush than the President or any other male politician. I think I am simply more interested in what Rice has to say than in any of her male predecessors because she is more like me.  I even often find myself more interested in Laura Bush than male politicians, even though Laura Bush holds no actual power!  I have never tested it scientifically, but I think on some level I am initially more interested or attracted to what women are saying or doing than what men are saying or doing.

Another example:  I am not especially interested in watching sports on TV -- except I will pause for a few minutes if it's a women's team.  My husband commented to me a while ago that he thought it was weird that I am not interested in football since I am such a "warlike" person who enjoys "aggression and strategy." (Yep, that's what he said.)  And I realized in a flash that I have never been interested in football because I simply couldn't identify with the players.  I knew from early childhood that girls don't play football, and it's hard to be interested in a situation if you know there's no chance you're ever going to be in that situation or anything remotely resembling that situation.  On some level, I think sports fans imagine themselves playing the game -- and that's what makes it exciting, that feeling on some unconscious level that you could be that guy trying to get the puck in the goal or hit a home-run.  Women are much less likely to have that feeling about professional sports that are closed to them. 

On the other hand, I think that feeling of greater interest in my own sex is more of a first impulse rather than a lasting feeling.  I think men and women can identify with each other, be interested in each other's activities, and be inspired by each other.  But it's just not obvious at first.  The movie character with whom I most closely identify is Michael Corleone from The Godfather.  I first went to see that movie when I was 19.   I had never seen it before that because just looked like a boring movie about a bunch of guys killing each other -- yawn -- but when it was played at my college, I dragged myself to see it because I knew it was a "classic."  And boy, just like everyone else in the world, I came away feeling it was the greatest movie ever!  And after numerous viewings throughout my 20s, I developed a sense of kinship with Michael.  The early parts where Michael is a young goody-two shoes who isn't taken very seriously but then morphs into a practical, intelligent risk-taker seemed to parallel my own professional career (or at least how I like to imagine it!).  And who doesn't know exactly how Michael feels when he is going to do his first hit and he's scared to death and he can't find the gun behind the toilet at first!  Thus, I overcame my first impulse not to like the Godfather-- but I almost didn't go to the movie at all, and really only did so from a feeling of duty or obligation to see a classic film.

I am guessing there must be studies out there regarding whether people have a propensity to be more interested in heroes of their own sex.  Just based on my own experiences, I believe this propensity exists.  I suppose one could think of it as sub-conscious sexism, but however one labels it, it is a problem for women due to the historic power differentials between the sexes.   If my hypothesis is correct, young girls and women may be less likely to be initially attracted to certain fields in which there are very few women-- and that lack of initial attraction may hinder the entrance into certain fields by women who might have enjoyed and thrived if they had given it a second look.    Having forced myself to sit down and watch a few football games with my husband, I now appreciate the intricacies and the strategy and the drama of the game.  But I spent more than three decades totally ignoring football because I didn't have that initial attraction to it.  This sub-conscious sexism (if my hypothesis is correct) is also a problem for women because it means that men are less likely to be interested in the first instance in what we think or what we have to say-- and men are generally still in most positions of power in society so that's gonna hurt us.

As a result of my thinking about all this, I no longer scoff at the importance of female role models, especially in fields where women are underrepresented.  I think this greater interest in one's own sex doesn't have to mean that men and women have to be segregated by interest forevermore.  Once the initial disinclination to identify with the experiences of the opposite sex is overcome, there is no reason that a woman cannot identify with Michael Corleone or with Tom Brady, or that a man cannot identify with Elizabeth Bennett in Pride & Prejudice.  (When we watched it this weekend, my husband was groaning right along with me, "Oh God, not him," when Mr. Collins came in to propose to Lizzie.)  The key is to be conscious of and overcome one's initial prejudices. 


I am posting this request for submissions from a Smith College student (hurray Seven Sisters/Five College System!).  Do help out if you can. 

Disclaimer: If submitting your story will in any way put you in danger, please do not attempt to do so until you can ensure your own safety.

I, a student at Smith College, am in the process of creating a compilation blog to illustrate the various intersections of identity and societal influences that play a role in the differing experiences of domestic violence (including physical, sexual, emotional, or similar kinds of abuse).  Instead of the largely white, heterosexual, middle-class stories
of domestic violence that dominates the sphere of knowledge, this blog project will include a truly diverse array of experiences.  Domestic violence is not limited to white/heterosexual/middle-class populations, and neither is this project. Of course, any experiences of DV within the white/middle-class/heterosexual populations are welcome as well.

I am therefore sending out a call for submissions.  If you have been a victim of domestic violence (as defined, for the purposes of this project, above), or have been directly involved in another person's experience of DV, and wish to speak out about your experiences, please email your submission to: speakup.speakout@yahoo.com   

There are no style or length limitations.  The one request I have is this: in order to aid in the reader's (and my) understanding of your experience of DV, I would appreciate if you included your location in the world - e.g. a general geographic region, gender identity, sexual orientation, cultural background, etc.  Feel free to include as few or as
many locators as you wish.

The deadline for submissions is: Monday, May 1, 2006.

More detailed information about the project is available at the blog, Speaking Up, Speaking Out Against Domestic Violence. If you have further questions,
feel free to email me at the address listed above.


I have been asked to comment on Phillip Longman's idea that social conservatives are going to gain ascendance because liberals are not having enough babies.  Unfortunately,  Longman's article, "The Return of Patriarchy," in Foreign Policy magazine does not seem to be readily available on line, but you can get the gist of his basic thesis here.  He is saying that folks like me who subscribe to Enlightenment ideas are going to become vastly outnumbered by the children of families with patriarchal and other traditionalist values-- because these families breed at a much higher rate than families like mine. 

Longman's thesis has caused widespread gloating among the most conservative segments of the blogosphere.  And I'll admit that after first learning of Longman's idea, I have tossed and turned through more than a few nightmares involving The Handmaid's Tale.

So does this mean I had better get cracking and start reproducing?  Well, I think taking on the obligation to pop out as many children as possible just to keep up with the natalist crowd would defeat the very feminist values for which I stand.  It woud be essentially giving in to defeat. 

The fact of the matter is:

-- There are a lot of factors and variables and unknowns that could affect the development of cultural values over time, as others have argued.

-- Even if the patriarchs take over due to sheer Darwinian strength, that doesn't mean their values are right or good.  Might does not make right. 

-- I have studied enough history to accept that humanity is liable to suffer through cycles of enlightenment and regression.  It is not impossible that we may be in for another Dark Ages in the coming centuries.  While this is a terrible thought, I hold out hope that humanity will eventually come to its senses, and that eventually, even should the worst occur, we will again get back on the track of progress towards an ideal of equality and fairness for all.  If there is a Dark Ages, perhaps one day there will also be a Renaissance in which feminist, humanist, and Enlightenment ideas are re-discovered.  (I have a fanciful, and really utterly ridiculous, idea that perhaps our humble little feminist blogs might live on somehow to inspire future generations of restricted girls with the idea of what could be.)  The ideas are out there in the world, and that's the important thing. 

-- Even in the worst eras of history, there have almost always been pockets of people somewhere in the world straining towards enlightenment.  My father, perhaps inspired by the history of his Jewish forbears, always says, "Don't assume a good thing is forever.  Keep a Swiss bank account and get ready to bail for a more enlightened place if the freedoms we cherish ever go kaplooie."


Because I already know it. 

Just kidding.  Really what this post is about is whether it is appropriate for strange men to tell a woman she's hot.  I am really putting this post up because the comments thread on the last post has veered somewhat off-topic, so I am going to place the comments regarding compliments under this post. 

My basic view is that I really don't want to hear your views on whether I am hot or not, unless I know you really well.  This is not only a feminist view but a matter of good old-fashioned etiquette.  If you don't know me, it's presumptuous of you to comment on my looks.  I don't exist as a decorative object for your enjoyment.  I exist to go about my business. 

NOTE:  The first four comments in the thread below were originally posted below the prior post.  I have removed them to this post as a means of controlling "thread drift" -- because that's the happy, shiny, friendly kind of blogger I am.


Here is a recipe for misogyny: 

(1) Believe that engaging in lustful thoughts is a grievous soul-endangering sin.

(2) Believe that women have a moral responsibility to prevent men fron engaging in lustful thoughts about them. 

This recipe for misogyny happens to be the theoretical basis for the modern Christian "modesty" movement.  This kind of attitude is liable to cause downright  hatred of women because  young (and not-so-young) heterosexual men are, by nature, going to be "tormented" by lustful thoughts about women all the time and they are naturally going to turn their frustration at this state of affairs upon the women who inspire this lust. 

We see the seeds of this kind of misogyny in the comments of some young men who hold the beliefs described above:

“Each and every day is a battle—a battle against my sin, a battle against temptation, a battle against my depraved mind. Every morning I have to cry out for mercy, strength, and a renewed conviction to flee youthful lusts. The Spirit is faithful to bring me the renewal I need to prepare me to do war against my sin, yet the temptation still exists.

Sometimes, when I see a girl provocatively dressed, I’ll say to myself, ‘She probably doesn’t know that a hundred and one guys are going to devour her in their minds today. But then again, maybe she does.’ To be honest, I don’t know the truth—the truth of why she chooses to dress the way she does. All I know is that the way she presents herself to the world is bait for my sinful mind to latch onto and I need to avoid it at all costs.

For the most part, the church serves as a sanctuary from the continual barrage of temptation towards sin. However, the church’s members are not free from sin yet, and there are girls both ignorant and knowledgeable of men’s sinful tendencies. I must confess that even church can have several mines scattered about.”

“The one place where I might think I wouldn’t have to face as much temptation is at church, but this is not always the case. When ladies whom I’m friends with dress immodestly, it definitely has a negative effect on our friendship. When a woman dresses immodestly it makes it difficult to see her as a sister in Christ. There is a constant battle going on as I’m talking with her. Communication becomes more difficult as I’m trying to listen to her, because I’m trying to fight temptation.”

(Emphasis Added).

This is pretty much the same attitude early church father Tertullian expressed when he said, "Dear sisters, you are the devil's gateway...you are she who persuaded him whom the devil did not dare attack. Do you know that every one of you is an Eve?"

Frankly, if evil thoughts are in and of themselves damaging as Christians believe, or if they are likely a prelude to evil actions, then I would ten times rather have a man say to himself, "Hey, a roll in the hay with Happy might be kind of fun," than to think, "Happy is such a dirty little whore, she's the devil's gateway."

I have nothing against modest dress at all. In fact, I tend towards modest dress myself.  But I view it as a matter of good etiquette rather than a moral imperative, and more importantly, I think the men around me hold the same view. It's not polite to show a lot of thigh in the workplace or at church because it draws needless attention to attirbutes that are irrelevant to the mission of one's office or one's place of worship.  The beach or a nightclub, however, are a different matter, but by all means, cover up even at those places if you are not comfortable showing a lot of skin. The problem however comes from viewing modesty in women as a moral imperative and placing responsibility on women for reining in men's lust.

The other pernicious aspect of this modern Christian modesty movement is -- where does one draw the line?  Randy young men are inclined to feel lust at even the slightest "provocation."  Even if I am covered in loose material from neck to ankle, a sexually imaginative young man (and trust me, they're pretty much all sexually imaginative) is still going to have a pretty good idea of my general build.  Even the sight of a finely turned ankle, a pretty face, or some luxuriant hair is likely to inspire a good amount of l-u-s-t. 

Chances are, if you are female and not some kind of hideous swamp creature, you are at some point or another going to inspire some sexual thoughts in the men around you despite your best efforts.  There's nothing you can do to prevent it.  Even if you wear a burka, men are going to think about what is underneath the burka.  Groups like the Taliban understand this and thus not only imposed the burka on women but also restricted women's ability to leave the house -- or even to talk or laugh in the presence of men.   These inhumane restrictions on women were inspired by precisely the same reasoning as that outlined above. 

The bottom line is that women cause lust just by BEING.  Anti-lust attitudes -- or certainly attitudes that place responsibility on women for causing lust -- are thus inherently anti-woman, and a very dangerous strain in our culture. 


This and this.


Who says they don't have a sense of humor?

(Sorry, but that's about as much as I can muster today.  Brain fried . . . must zone out in front of boob tube . . . will post on presumption of innocence issues tomorrow, but maybe not 'til afternoon.)


Hugo Schwyzer has written a terrific post touching upon his "calling as a progressive pro-feminist" for "reaching out to my more conservative Christian brothers and sisters" and for "reaching out with the Gospel to feminists."  He expresses frustration at these groups misunderstanding of one another, particularly of one another's diversity.  This is one of several reasons I love Hugo's blog so. 

I truly believe that understanding the various types of feminisms out there as well as the various types of conservative Christianity is a key to understanding the United States.  There aren't too many people of whom I am aware who bridge these two communities well, but Hugo is one of them.   


Major hat tip:  Cellar Door

"Feminism has gripped our culture. Here is some historical perspective. In the nineteenth century, the Queen of England said that feminism was a 'mad wicked folly of women’s rights… feminists ought to get a good whipping..'  There are not a hundred pastors alive today who would read anything like this out loud. We live in a time in history where we are out of sync with historic understandings of manhood, womanhood."

Doug Phillips, the head of an organization called Vision Forum Ministries, uttered these words last weekend on the occasion of Vision Forum's 2006 Father Daughter retreat in Pine Mountain, Georgia.  This event drew more than 500 people at a cost of $595.00 for each father/daughter pair and $185 for each additional daughter. Daughters ranged in age from as young as 5 to women in their 20s.

The purpose of this event seems to be the encouragement and affirmation of a "Biblical" model of the father-daughter relationship.  The father's most sacred duty is "[the daughter's] protection and preservation from childhood to virtuous womanhood . . .  he leads her, woos her, and wins her . . .   he seeks to raise her as an industrious, family-affirming, children-loving woman of God."  The daughter in turn ideally "looks to her father as a loving picture of leadership, of devotion, and of care."

Feminism, needless to say, is seen as the enemy because of course it is the father's vision, not the daughter's, which she must seek to fulfill until the day he hands her over to her husband.  Her vision at no time in her life will take precedence -- and this fact must be impressed on young girls sooner rather than later in "this age of feminism." 

Some of the events of the weekend included:

An "intimacy building" event in which daughters were to comb their father's hair, shave them, tie their ties for them, and tie their shoes.

There were also unity games such as the three legged race and a game in which the daughters were blindfolded to "see how well daughters could follow the voice command of their fathers in and around an obstacle course."  There was also an exercise in fatherly wooing, in which fathers knelt before their daughters and sang songs like "Eidelweiss."

There were picnics, dinners, and "high tea" at which everyone wore their best, with young girls in long flowered dresses and pretty hats.  (I noticed that many sisters seemed to wear identical matching outfits.  Perhaps this is simply meant to be cute, or perhaps it's a matter of frugality, but I can't help seeing the matching outfits as symbolizing a lack of respect for the children's individuality, as they are trained up to adopt one-size-fits all gender roles that are especially specific and restrictive for women.)

There were various talks. Scott Brown, a minister involved in Vision Forum ministries, proclaimed that "Fathers need to prepare their daughters to be wives who are under submission, helpers to their husbands, mothers, keepers at home and domestic entrepreneurs."  A young woman contrasted Biblical womanhood with the poor example of the heroine in the "Princess Diaries" and the "feministic rebellion of Teddy Roosevelt's eldest daughter Alice." Doug Phillips read aloud from a picture book called The Princess and the Kiss, "a story of God's gift of purity."

You can read more about the event and look at pics at Scott Brown's blog starting here and starting again here.  You can also read more on Doug Phillips's blog. (The links directly to the relevant posts didn't work so you'll have to scroll down past the fencing pics and whatever else may get posted in the meantime. Once you get to the father daughter picnic you're in the right place and keep scrolling down.)


People always think of the "boys will be boys" defense in the context of rape, where it certainly rears its ugly head almost invariably.  But "boys will be boys" often comes up in the context of plain old physical assault involving male victims.  It sometimes takes the even more grotesque twist of "this is how gentlemen resolve things."

I saw a classic example of this when I prosecuted a prominent local citizen for a misdemeanor assault.  This guy (we'll call him "Big Man") was the manager of an organization that was active and beloved in the community.  One day he was meeting in his office with two members of the board of his organization.  The discussion became heated as the three men argued about budgeting issues.  Big Man was sitting on one side of his desk and the other two men were sitting on the other side of the desk.  At one point, the soon-to-be-victim said, "I don't effing care about last year's budget."  Big Man then grabbed a paper weight and threw it in in the victim's general direction.  Big Man then stood up, walked around to the other side of the desk, grabbed the victim around the throat and started throttling him violently.  The other board member pulled Big Man away from the victim and held him back.  As the victim left, Big Man was trying to struggle away from the board member and trying to grab at the victim. 

The victim immediately reported the matter to the police.  There was no dispute as to what occurred.  Big Man himself eagerly gave a statement describing exactly what he had done, as did the board member who was present.  I duly charged Big Man with misdemeanor assault.  My plea offer was very lenient in consideration of the fact that this appeared to be an isolated incident -- twelve months in jail all suspended for five years on the condition that Big Man complete anger management counseling and pay a hefty fine.   But oh my gosh, you'd think my even charging the guy was the most monstrous miscarriage of justice ever perpetrated in the history of civilization.  I got zillions of calls from Big Man's cronies who all argued that it was ridiculous to treat Big Man's throttling of another citizen as a criminal offense. 

Even the board member who witnessed the assault (and had even characterized the throttling as "violent") thought I was being too hard on Big Man.  Big Man was provoked, he said.  The victim was a pain in the ass, who had been a thorn in the side of the board for years.  If I only knew the history of how the victim tried to argue all the time about the budget, I would understand that it was completely appropriate to throttle him.  "Wait 'til you see the documents that show the whole history of the dispute," said the Big Man's Crony.

"But this isn't about whose view of the budget is correct.  It's about the fact that in a civilized society, we don't throttle people who disagree with us, even if they are unreasonable and a pain in the ass," I said.

"Well," shot back Big Man's Crony.  "You just don't understand because you didn't grow up having to fight in the playground."

At this point, I started contemplating violence myself.  First off, who is this guy to assume I never had to fight anyone in the playground?  (I refrained from sharing the story -- of which I am not proud -- of the little boy who got a bloody nose after he kicked me in the butt multiple times during a spelling bee.)  More importantly, why on earth does this guy think the way little boys behave on the playground is an appropriate model for adult interactions, especially when the criminal code says otherwise?

Big Man's Crony went on: "This is typical of how overzealous prosecutors behave.   Who are you to interfere?  This is how two gentlemen resolve a disagreement.  You're not their mother." 

I have a feeling that if a black man had started throttling Big Man during a verbal altercation, Big Man and his pals would have been singing a different tune-- because then it wouldn't be a case of "gentlemen" resolving a dispute.  The sexism, misandry, and classism inherent in the attitude of Big Man and his friends was staggering.  (And I note that it was obvious from Big Man's written statement to the police that he felt the same way as his friends.  He honestly felt completely entitled to throttle this guy!) What was also staggering was that Big Man didn't have just one crony making these arguments on his behalf, but scores of them.  And his defense attorney still goes around telling everyone how unreasonable I am, not because of the sentence I recommended, but because I even brought the assault charge at all. 

In the end, Big Man had to plead guilty because he had no legal defense to his actions, but we left the sentencing up to the judge. Big Man wanted some arrangement whereby the charge would be wiped off his record after 2 months of good behavior.  The judge, a woman, agreed with my view of the case, particularly in light of Big Man's lack of remorse.  To this day, I am sure Big Man and his pals see this case as an example of how women are ruining the justice system, since we just don't understand how "gentlemen" resolve disputes.


Being a feminist has been a relatively easy path for me because there is (for the most part) very little conflict between my feminism and the rest of my identity.  But for many women out there, being a feminist means to reject or to live in contradiction with their culture or their religion.  For example, it is no sweat for me to be heavily critical of the culturally, religiously and legally mandated system of gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia.  But what if I were a Saudi feminist?

If I were a Saudi feminist, I would, as a feminist, recognize that my culture and nation are predicated upon a deep malevolence towards women.  But I would find myself in conflict because the very culture that I recognize as so very hostile to me would be the same culture that shaped me and made me who I am.

Over the past couple of days, I have been pondering the fact that this sense of internal contradiction is outside the scope of my experience.  Except I realized in a flash of insight this morning that it is not outside the scope of my experience. 

I am the daughter of a man who routinely ridiculed and terrorized me throughout my childhood.  I recognized at a very young age that my father was my Enemy.  I left for boarding school at age fourteen clicking my heels because I was so glad to be free of him.  Throughout most of my teens and twenties, he was mostly out of sight and out of mind. 

But in my thirties, I have realized that I am not free of him, nor will I ever be free of him.  I have his coloring and his features.  When I look in the mirror, it is his face I see looking back at me.  I have the same mannerisms and gestures and vocabulary.  His history is my history.  I inherited many of my cultural and religious attitudes from him.  We even had some good times when I was growing up.  He and my mother and I spent many long hours around the dinner table talking about ideas and books from the time I was very little.  As a child, I was completely and totally dependent on him.  There were times when I cravenly courted his approval, and positively basked in it when I got it.  And I am even proud of him at times -- his intelligence, many of his values, and his professional accomplishments.

In a very real sense, my father made war on me but he also created me and shaped me.  Even as I recognize that he deliberately harmed me, I am also unable to escape the fact that he is part of me.  I wish -- oh how I wish -- that I was born into a family with a father who would never have dreamt of treating me the way I was treated.  But if I had been born into a different family, I wouldn't be me.  It is a quandry and a contradiction. 

I can't speak for women who come out of highly misogynist or sexist families, cultures or religions.  But I imagine there are women out there wrestling with feelings about their culture that are very similar to the internal contradictions with which I struggle.  Perhaps, to the extent that sexist assumptions seem to be in the very air we breathe even in the most "enlightened" circles in the U.S., we are all struggling with these contradictions to one degree or another.    I can't pretend that it is especially easy or that I have any solutions. But I think that a clear-eyed recognition of the contradictions one faces is a good start. 


I suppose it comes as no surprise that a group like Focus on the Family would view adult single women owning their own homes and taking care of themselves as a bad thing.  Wait.  I thought these conservative groups believed in personal responsibility and individuals taking care of themselves? Apparently, that notion does not extend to women.  Women should not take care of themselves, but rather should remain in a state of dependence on father or husband at all times! 

Of course, Focus on the Family's Boundless Webzine article on the topic by Candice Z. Watters must first begin with mocking a strawfeminist.  It begins with a "description" of a television discussion by New York real estate broker Barbara Corcoran (who, judging from her photographs, appears quite worthy to be called a "happy feminist" herself!) (Below are some excerpts from the article-- not the whole thing.)

Corcoran's point of triumph was that the numbers had flipped. There were now more single women than single men buying homes, and wasn't that great news! she openly gloated. It was evidence of girl power; a sign of their financial success, she said.

That Corcoran is such a bitch.  Actually gloating when women are able to care for themselves.    

At first I thought, sure, for many women, it is a wise financial move to buy rather than rent. But I seriously doubted Corcoran's belief that they're doing it as a statement of feminist superiority.

Now, I don't know exactly what Corcoran said.  But I find it very hard to believe that she ever said, "Isn't it great that single women are showing their feminist superiority."  And superiority over whom?  I suppose, we are talking about "feminist superiority" over men, who are not buying houses in such great numbers?  It is so typical for an anti-feminist to assume that a feminist who is pleased over women's exercising some independence is actually just trying to lord it over men.  Because we all know that female autonomy = male emasculation. Those castrating feminist bitches, I tell ya. 

But the skeptical Watters doesn't buy the notion that women homeowners are saying to themselves, "HA!  This'll show 'em."  Because most women are not in fact castrating bitches.

It's not in our nature as women. Maybe a hardened few do, but I suspect most single women who buy their own homes do it out of an inborn desire for security and sense of place; a need to have a base from which they can move out into the world and retreat back to again.

So, you see, single female homeownership actually shows that women do not really want independence.  They're just nesting.  And single men who buy homes are . . . uh I don't know.  Conquering the world?

Corcoran said the happiest women she sees across the closing table are single moms. Her interpretation? The single woman is proud of her achievement and happy to be doing this on her own. Given that statistically, single moms comprise the poorest among us, couldn't one also deduce that a single mom buying her own home is beaming, not because her husband or boyfriend abandoned his responsibility to her and their children, not because she's a model of feminist independence and power, not because it feels good to finally be doing what used to be something only men did, but because she has managed to climb out of or avoid the poverty that plagues so many in her condition? This is not a sign of reaching the pinnacle — her life's goal — but of avoiding her worst nightmare.

So the single woman homeowner shouldn't be proud of their achievements and happy that she is able to do this on their own?  Because she may have preferred to have a life partner, that means she's not happy that she was able to make it on her own, she's not thrilled that she wasn't forced into a state of dependence just because her prior relationships didn't work out? Come on -- Isn't it precisely the fact that the "old maids" of yore were forced into humiliating states of dependence or poverty that makes single homeownership a feminist triumph? Why, I wonder, does Ms. Watters feel the need to set up a false dichotomy that implies that feminism is all about some sort of childish oneupmanship?  Well, because, Ms. Watters actually likes the notion of old maids being forced into humiliating states of dependence or poverty. 

In [her book] Getting Serious About Getting Married, [author Debbie Maken] explains that yes, single women used to live with their parents until they married. But it wasn't just because it was economically practical — parents also wanted to protect and motivate. They understood that their daughters needed protection from men who would certainly take liberties if given the opportunity that living alone provides. They also knew men were motivated to marry when access to the object of their affection was strictly limited.

Translation:  Parents understood that they needed to guard the commodity that was being given to men in exchange for the marriage commitment.  After all, why would a man be motivated to buy the cow when he can get the milk for free? 

Maken writes, "just as familiarity breeds contempt, access breeds complacency. Our solo living arrangements send a signal to men that they can have access into our lives and apartments at any time." In the past, "men married because they realized that their access to women was going to be constantly monitored by their parents."

Translation:  Playing hard to get is the only way to trap a man.  And women are too weak or naive to actually engage in these kinds of man-catching wiles without their parents to monitor them. 

In most cases it wasn't just family rules that kept women at home. Community-wide standards, expectations and sometimes even statutes required it. These were marriage-minded people and they knew that living apart from family was counter-productive; it not only lessened a woman's prospect of marrying well, it provided "the anonymity needed for the continuation of secret sin." (emphasis added).

Ah, the nostalgia.  How I miss those days when a woman living on her own was viewed as a whore and virtuous women were expected/forced to remain in a state of child-like dependence on parents!  Thank goodness there are places in the world where these types of standards are still enforced.  Like Saudi Arabia. 

If you live on your own, your modesty and sense of propriety may protect you. But in the face of temptation, that's all you have. And having been tempted, I know such personal piety only goes so far. How much more firmly a woman's purity is guarded when she lives under the protection of a family — a family with her best interests in mind. Not only does she have her modesty but also the rules of their home, their accountability and their physical presence.

She does have a point there.  Women's purity is in special need of protection -- because we all know that women are more prone than men to internet porn addiction, visiting strip clubs, and hiring prostitutes.

Not only does a family home provide protection from unscrupulous, unmotivated men . . .

Unless those unscrupulous, unmotivated men happen to be members of your family home . . .

. . . If marriage is your goal, limited access with accountability — not home ownership — will help you achieve it. Yes, homeownership can be a great investment. But it's not your only investment option. And wealth at the expense of your desire for a husband is rarely a gain.

Translation:  Dare exercise any personal autonomy or actually make some money and you will DIE ALONE WITH YOUR CATS!   

UPDATE:  Amanda has taken this on over at Pandagon.  She accurately sums up the crux of the article that "being financially independent is a sign that you've failed as a woman." 


A lot of feminist bloggers have picked up a woman's report of having been gang raped by a group of Duke University lacrosse players.  The woman was an African-American exotic dancer who was hired to dance at what she thought would be a small gathering of five men.  Instead she and the other exotic dancer who accompanied her found themselves surrounded by about more than forty men, many of whom began yelling racial slurs.  When the dancers left in fear, a neighbor heard some of the men saying things like, "I want my money back," and "Thank your grandpa for my cotton shirt."  The women returned to the house after some of the men apologized.  One of the women was then pulled into the bathroom and raped by three men.  She is a single mother of two children and carries a full course load at North Carolina Central University. 

The horror of what this woman described cannot be overstated.  An event like this puts to rest any notion that equal treatment is a given in our society. This is not a case of a single anti-social criminal. These were supposedly the best and the brightest -- a group of young men at an elite university -- who apparently never learned basic empathy, especially for other human beings who are female and black.  How on earth were these guys allowed to reach adulthood without learning that torturing other people and ridiculing them based on their sex and race is not acceptable?  Do  these guys not have parents?  Do they not read?  What was going through their little minds when they hurled insults at people they had paid to be there?  What were they thinking as they goaded each other on?  Did they not consider for even a moment that this woman was a human being?  How does stuff like this happen?

I know, I know, it does happen.  But, as long as I live, I don't think I will ever fail to be shocked by it. 


A lot of people see feminism as superfluous in America.  After all, people don't view me as "less than" because I am a woman. (Do they?) I can appear in any courtroom or boardroom and be taken just as seriously as a man.  I have enjoyed access to the best educational resources in this country and have had the opportunity to do pretty much whatever I want without any gender-based limitations. This country is feminist nirvana, right?

Well, perhaps-- IF you are a white, heterosexual, conformist, middle-class, college-educated woman.  For people like me, any biases I face are very subtle.  But hang out with the rural poor for a while and it's like feminism never happened.

Of course, I don't want to paint this demographic of rural poor people with too broad a brush.  The rural poor people I met (in my virtually all-white county) are not necessarily representative at all.   The people I met are generally those I encountered through my work in the criminal justice system or through the civil rights and plaintiffs' cases I currently handle.  I got to know certain families through their constant interaction with the criminal justice system.  I can diagram the family trees of the five families whom I saw the most when I was a prosecutor.  Generations upon generations and cousins upon cousins were all in trouble with the law on a regular basis.  And in these families, the view of women was unequivocal:  girls and women are sex objects to be dominated.   

In those families, there is no consciousness of feminism whatsoever. Incest and wife-beating are a way of life.  Male privilege reigns supreme.  Parents often gave their 12 or 13 or 14 year old daughters "permission" or even encouragement to have sex with much older boyfriends.  One very young girl told me that she went to her father for help because her 20 year old boyfriend was pressuring her to have sex and she didn't want to.  Her dad told her to sleep with him already, because "there's nothing worse than a tease." So she slept with him and promptly got pregnant.  Her parents had taught her that giving her boyfriend what he wanted was the most important thing, regardless of the consequences for her.

Another young girl came home in tears  and told her parents that an older male cousin  "forced" her to give him oral sex.  Her father went to the cousin and said, "I know how these young girls can be, but please don't do this anymore."  The father was satisfied because the cousin apologized and "even" offered to split some firewood for the father.

Domestic violence by men upon women seemed to be par for the course.  One teenaged mother who was regularly batted around by her boyfriend reported the assaults to her parents on an ongoing basis.  They counseled her to stick with him for the sake of the kids and try not to provoke him.  They told her that he would mature as he got older. On one occasion, he even held a gun to her head.  From her perspective, the state's efforts to intervene didn't help her much.  When he was put in jail, she was forced to give up her job and go on welfare, because he was no longer there to watch the kids while she worked the nightshift.  That's the last time she will ever report an assault.   

Most victims view their problems as the idiosyncracies of the people involved.  "He was just worried about what I was doing or who I was with because I came home late." Or, "I started it because I told him he wasn't a real man."  Or, "It's just the drinking." But at least one woman who had been both molested and beaten by male family members when she was growing up saw her situation in stark terms of men's seemingly inevitable power over women.  She told me that her father's beatings taught her during her teens that "men are in charge" and that "there is nothing we can do about it" except try to placate them. 

These are the women who are going to lose the opportunity, in places like South Dakota, to have any chance to control their fertility by means of birth control or abortion.  These are the women we greet with incredulity when they finally report an assault because they don't immediately leave the assailant.  These are the women who know the consequences of living in a community where their perspectives and interests are not valued in any way because they are women. 


I have been watching the latest femosphere kerfuffle (there have been a couple lately) with great interest.  This one started at Morphing into Mama, in a post entitled "False Advertising" in which the author opined that:

. . . Personally, I think it would be unfair to Husband if I gained a bunch of weight and did nothing about it . . .

. . . [i]t would be false advertising if he’d married his 120 pound girlfriend and ended up with a 160 pound wife.

. . . I had plenty of friends who had grown their hair long while single, only to cut it all off in favor of a “practical style” soon after the nuptials. I always thought this a bit unfair – sort of like false advertising. These women used their long hair to attract their husbands, but once the deal was sealed, they’d cut it all off.

This post set off a firestorm of criticism at a number of different blogs.  You can see the trackbacks at the post.  I first became aware of the controversy over at Twisty's place.  The idea of "false advertising" apparently struck a chord.

I am a married woman.  I care about how I look.  I also care about what my husband thinks about how I look.  I also care about how my husband looks-- although, oddly, I always think he looks incredibly handsome no matter what.  These are not overarching concerns in my daily life, however, and I hope that I keep appearance-related issues in perspective.  Here is what I think about Morphing into Mama's post and the issues raised:

1)    It is bothersome that the author seems to accept without question a terribly cold and commercial view of marriage.  Her terminology endorses the commodification of our bodies as part of the marriage "contract." The problem with that, of course, is that commercial relationships are, by nature, cold-hearted, selfish, and  conditional.  Marriage is supposed to be warm-hearted, selfless, and unconditional (with certain important exceptions, such as the condition that there be no violence in the marriage).

2) When a commericalized view of marriage prevails, EVERYONE loses, and certainly, women lose. Sure, Morphing says that both men and women have an obligation to maintain their looks for the sake of their partners. But traditionally, it is women's bodies that are the commodity and it is we who are valued for our looks more than for our other qualities.  Thus, women are more prone to intense insecurity about our weight, our age, and other factors relating to our physical appearance.  It wasn't so long ago that our position in society, or even our very survival, depended upon it.

3) I feel some degree of social obligation to pay attention to how I look.  I have obligations, within reason, to those around me.  Thus, I take a shower every day even when I don't feel like it.  I dress up when I go to a wedding, a funeral, a court appearance, or a church service, in order to show respect for the occasion.  I try to look presentable when I go to the corner store.  And yes, I want my husband to think that I am pretty.  I take some steps toward that end, both for myself and for him, such as trying to eat well, exercise, and take care of my skin. 

4) My body, however, belongs first and foremost to ME. If my husband were to turn to me and say, "Wow, it would be cool if you got breast implants," I would say, "It's not happening."  (Actually, I'd probably have a lot more to say than that.)  If I cannot work a diet and exercise regimen into my schedule because I have other priorities, that's that. 

5) Both parties should have a deep understanding going into a marriage, or other type of life partnership, that good looks (however we define good looks) are transient.  Our bodies change.  We go grey and bald.  We become wrinkled. We get sick.  We develop varicose veins.  Our teeth turn yellow. Both parties should recognize up front that they are, at times, going to see each other at their worst -- vomiting, sweaty, giving birth, bloated, smelly, wearing unflattering clothes, whatever.  Both parties have the right to feel confident that, even at their very worst, they will have the love of the other. 

6)  Reciprocity and respect are always crucial.  I may feel some sense of obligation, within reason, to look my best for my husband, but HE has an obligation to make me feel as though he is always happy with my looks and with me.  He has an obligation to me to never, ever, ever, in word or deed, imply that he finds my looks wanting in any way -- no matter what.  And vice-versa.  I think that obligation is far more important than looking good.  (I should also note that I am not the marriage purity police.  Married people fall down on their obligations sometimes and it's up to the individuals involved to work it out.)

How have these principles worked in my marriage?  I have to stress that we don't have a model or perfect marriage, but I do think that we've handled appearance-related issues rather well. 

Personally, I definitely admire handsome men.  In particular, I admired my husband's good looks from the first time I met him. It was, however, my very dashing husband who went from being rail thin to gaining a significant amount of weight after we got married.  Turning 30, being a sedentary paraplegic, and eating a lot of fast food caught up with him.  Strangely enough -- and I would not have expected this of myself --  I never stopped finding him incredibly attractive.  When I look at him, I see HIM first and the specifics of his appearance second.  Indeed, I thought the extra weight gave him a bit of appealing gravitas that he did not have before.

Although I noticed his weight gain, I never once brought it up.  When he brought it up on a couple of occasions, I told him that "I think you're beautiful."  He now blames me (not entirely seriously) for letting his weight gain go as far as it has.   I did, however, lose a lot of sleep worrying that he would drop dead of a stroke or a heart attack and leave me a widow at a young age.  I told him exactly that and I have encouraged him to eat more healthfully and exercise more.  But I never pushed too hard because my husband is not one to do something until HE is good and ready and it is HIS body.

I am pleased to report that he has been committed since the beginning of December to changing his lifestyle.  He hasn't done much in the way of exercise, but he has significantly reduced his caloric intake and has significantly increased the amount of vegetables he eats.  The weight loss is significant, and he looks happier and healthier.  But I don't find myself thinking, "Wow, he looks HAWT!"  It's more, "Wow, he seems so energized and glowing and young and HEALTHY!"  I don't think that makes me an unshallow person -- I still have an eye for a pretty face -- but it is just that, going into marriage, neither of us viewed it as being about hotness, even though our mutually perceived hotness may have helped pique our interest each other in the first place.

I am myself less hawt than when we met back in '94 and married back in '97.  In particular, I seem to have gotten -- not heavier so much -- but squishier.  Would I like to get my 1997 figure and lack of squishiness back? Sure!  But I can't imagine feeling pressure from my husband to do so, and he has never once let on that he has noticed the increased squishiness.  Some of my female friends were appalled when I confided that his nickname for me, from very early on in our relationship, was "Porky."   Although I was initially disturbed when my nickname went from "Hot Pants" to "Porky," it became quite clear to me that what he was conveying was that I am not porky, and even if I were porky, it wouldn't matter.  (By the way, since it's true confession time, his nickname is "Meathead.")

Thus ends today's rambling.  The moral of the story is, "It's fine to value your appearance.  It's fine to want to look nice for your significant other.  But please oh please don't think of in terms of advertising or fulfilling your part of the 'deal.'  The real deal is about being able to count on each other no matter what."   


There have been a handful of cases over the past few years in the U.S. involving women teachers who have slept with adolescent male students who were below the age of consent.  The most famous offender is probably Mary Kay Letourneau. Debra Lafave is another, more recent offender.   

It appears as though the criminal charges against Debra Lafave have been resolved.  For multiple acts of sexual intercourse with her fourteen year old male student, she will serve three years of house arrest, four years of probation, register as a sex offender, and undergo sex offender counseling.  Prosecutors in two different counties were originally insistent that Lafave serve prison time but backed down, apparently due to pressure from the victim and his family.  At the most recent court hearing, a psychologist testified that having to testify would be detrimental to the victim, particularly given the glare of the media spotlight in this case.

Boy, can I feel the prosecutors' and victim's pain on this one.   In some of my cases when I was a prosecutor, I had young children who simply could not bring themselves to mouth the words of what happened to them.  I had teenaged victims flat out refuse to testify.   I had parents beg me to drop charges because the prospect of trial was destroying their child.  In such circumstances, the prosecutor's choices are: (a) retraumatize a reluctant victim by forcing a trial; (b) drop the charges in the hope that the victim will be come back to pursue  charges again when he or she is older; or (c) take whatever plea bargain you can get, on the theory that it is preferable to get sex offender registration, counseling and supervision of the offender in place in order to reduce th risk that the offender will re-offend.  Faced with situations where the victim desperately wants to avoid testifying, I generally went for option c.  But it was always frustrating and painful to do so.

I don't get the sense that Lafave's gender played into the result, except in a roundabout way.  The prosecutors were originally insistent upon jail time and changed their tune only at the request of the victim's family.  The judge in the second set of charges refused to endorse a no-time deal, stating that letting Lafave off without prison time "shocked the conscience of the court."  It appears that both the prosecutors and the judge would have pushed for prison time, but for the victim's desire to avoid trial.

The way that Lafave's gender played into this, however, was in terms of the intense media attention to this case.  This was due to the fact that reported instances of female-on-male statutory rape are very rare, and the fact that Lafave was so good looking.  The media attention in turn increased the pressure on the victim, which in turn led to the plea bargain.

Imagine how this boy felt with sayings like this all over the internet: "Stop saying that teenage boys who have sex with their hot, blonde teachers are permanently damaged. I have a better description for these kids: lucky bastards." (Hat tip: Chalice Chick for the quotation.) A young boy who has been victimized is thus the object of derision; he may question his masculinity if he feels damaged when he supposedly he should be feeling "lucky."

Stereotypes about how a young boy should react to sex with an adult woman are the direct result of old-fashioned patriarchal views regarding gender relations.  At one time , all 50 states had laws against seduction but only women could be victims of seduction. The crime of seduction was the act of using artful persuasion to influence a woman of previously chaste character to depart from virtue.  The assumptions underlying these laws were that (1) women did not have sufficient decision making and moral capacity to consent to sex, (2) men, rather than women, always initiate sex, and (3) women, but not men, are damaged by premarital sex.   We encounter some of those same anti-feminist attitudes today when people assume, based on gender, that a female offender is less at fault or that any young boy worth his salt should be happy to have had the opportunity for sex with an adult woman, particularly if she is considered attractive.  Thus, we see how patriarchal attitudes can hurt men as well as women. 

The fact that Lafave is being held  responsible to any extent is due to the rise of feminist mores in our culture.  Under our criminal laws, she is considered to be just as morally responsible for her actions as a man, and the statutory rape of a boy by a woman is considered just as reprehensible as any other form of statutory rape. I should note that, although Lafave received a more lenient deal than prosecutors wanted, her sentence isn't exactly a cake walk.  Her freedom on house arrest will be very limited.  She will have a number of requirements to fulfill on probation and if she screws them up, she could be sent to prison for the maximum sentence allowed for the crime she to which she plead  guilty.  She can never teach again and she is notorious throughout the country as a sex offender. 

There is no question that female-on-male statutory rape needs to be taken seriously.  Fortunately, due to feminist attitudes, we are much farther on our way to an appropriate response to these cases than we were in the bad old days. 


I went a little overboard on the women in law partnerships article in the New York Times, mainly because it is a subject of great and immediate interest to me. 

For some pithier takes on the issue, read the posts by Jeremy Blachman and Opinionistas.


I am willing to bet that billable hours -- and its unfortunate effects on law firm culture -- is the biggie in terms of why women are less likely than men to stick around at a law firm long enough to rise through the ranks. 


Billable hours suck royally.  Sometimes it is hard to explain to people outside the profession why billable hours requirements are so debilitating.  At my last firm, lawyers were expected to bill 1800 hours of our time to clients per year.  That amounts to between 38 and 39 hours a week, assuming that the attorney takes her four weeks vacation (HA!) and every holiday (not bloodly likely).  When I was kvetching about this to my brother-in-law who works at a 9-to-5 job, he said, "Oh, well that doesn't sound so bad.  Most people work 40 hours a week."

The problem is that it's not like you just punch in, fasten widgets steadily throughout the day, and then punch out.  The time you spend doing client work is harder to quantify because it is thinking work.  When I am developing an argument for a pleading, I might pace around while I think it through.  And as I am thinking it out, maybe my mind wanders, and I am not thinking about the case the whole time I am pacing.  So then I have to try to come up with a reasonable estimate as to how much time I actually spent developing my argument.  Or maybe it will simply take me a lot longer to figure out my argument then I can reasonably bill to a client.  (The client sees the crisp, clear final product and then says, "What?!?!? It took you FOUR hours to figure this out?")  Also, if you are doing a lot of small tasks like writing letters or making phone calls, you lose time when you shift gears between tasks. And it's not like you're on an assembly line without any distractions.  You also lose time because the phone rings, your secretary has a quesion, people pop in to say "hi," and you therefore get distracted. My old boss claimed that it takes about 12 hours at the office to bill 8 hours in a day.      That seems about right, based on my experience.

On top of the difficulty of actually generating the required billable hours is the fact that law firm lawyers have a lot of other time-consuming responsibilities that are not billable.  These non-billable responsibilities include speaking at seminars and preparing seminar materials, publishing articles, producing newsletters for clients, attending social events with clients, attending in-house meetings, working on in-house administrative tasks (such as interviewing prospective hires, or rewriting the firm's employment manual), working on pro bono cases (cases taken free of charge for indigent clients), and meeting the required 12 hours per year of Continuing Legal Education credits for maintaining one's bar membership. 

The most demoralizing aspect of billable hours for me occurs when I am on top of all my cases and don't have any pressing case-related reason to work over the weekend.  But then I realize, "Yeah, I may be on top of all my cases, but I am behind on my billable hours so I need to work ahead this weekend on my non-pressing matters so I can then volunteer for more work later and thus meet my billable requirements."  I HATE working when I don't need to just for the sake of producing billable hours.

I should also note that the 1800 hour requirement at my last firm is actually considered modest in many locales.  My current firm also has an 1800 hour requirement but you are actually expected to bill about 2000 hours in order to advance within the firm.  I have heard that, in major metropolitan areas, it is not unheard of for attorneys to be struggling to meet billable hours requirements of 2200 or 2400 hours.

And to make matters worse, for the most junior associates, the tasks that they are asked to do in the largest law firms are often mind-numbingly tedious -- like reviewing thousands of pages of documents, many of which are irrelevant, to determine what is important to a particular case.  I think for many of them it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, to envision a day when they will be asked to take on more responsibility or do more exciting, creative and analytical tasks.


The billable hour model often requires even the most efficient lawyers to work around the clock, on weekends, and on holidays.  If you are inefficient or have a blog that you spend time on, God help you.  Both male and female associates suffer under this regime, but it is more likely to drive female associates away for a number of reasons.

A)  For various cultural reasons, women often are reluctant to engage in self-promotion, a fact I noted in the previous post. Since billable hours is sometimes about estimating how much time you spend on a project, women are at a disadvantage because they are more inclined to underestimate how much time they spent.  When I first started billing, I often found myself thinking, "I know I timed my work on this motion at 8 hours, but I can't believe that this work could have taken me that long, so I'll just put down 4." I self-edited my time both consciously and, I think, unconsciously.  After I got favorable results on a few summary judgment motions and in my first civil jury trial, I found that I was more confident in my work and therefore more inclined to bill for all my time, but I still struggle with this issue.  I suspect men tend to be more likely to think well enough of themselves to bill all their time.

B) Women are operating under both internalized and externalized expectations that they will be the primary caretakers for their children.  It is (I imagine) awfully difficult (if not impossible) to work around the clock, including holidays and weekends, when you are the primary caretaker for a young child.

C) Even if you are splitting childcare duties 50-50 with your spouse, it is (I imagine) awfully difficult (if not impossible) to work around the clock, including holidays and weekends, and take care of a child.  Women generally can expect at best a 50-50 arrangement with a spouse and even that is not good enough if you are a lawyer at a major law firm.   Men who have a 50-50 arrangement with a spouse for childcare are in the same  boat.  BUT the thing is that there are always going to be men with wives who take on ALL of the household and childcare responsibilities, whereas there will rarely be women who have husbands who take on ALL of the household and childcare responsibilties.  So the people most likely to succeed in a law firm are the childless, or people (almost always men) who have spouses fully dedicated to childcare. 

D)  A lot, if not most lawyers, I know at large-ish law firms are absolutely miserable.  As one lawyer in the New York Times article noted, "They don't like being part of a billable hour-production unit.  They want more meaning out of their lives than that."  This goes for both men and women.  The problem is that it is a lot more socially acceptable for women to leave either to stay home with children or to take a less lucrative and time consuming position in the public sector or elsewhere.  Men are still under this incredible pressure to stick it out in order to be "providers" and take in the greatest possible income that they can.  For lawyers, the greatest possible income is usually the income one earns at a large law firm.   


There are potentially enormous rewards to rising through the ranks in a law firm.  These include not only the healthy income, but also the opportunities to exercise considerable influence over the profession of law (although I wish the major law firms would band together and do something about this horrid billable hour issue), and to take on fascinating, complex and high-stakes cases. As one of the women partners quoted in the article stated, "I have found my legal work and public service enormously satisfying, and I would never want to be without that . . . I truly believe that lawyers make a huge difference in society and I think it's a loss when women decide to leave firms."

The problem is that these enormous rewards are often simply not worth the misery of the billable hour regimen, especially for people who have families.


This is a continuation of my examination of the factors cited in the New York Times that may pose barriers for women aspiring to rise to partnerships in major law firms:

3)  ABITRARY MALE CONTROL OF KEY MANAGEMENT COMMITTEES.  This one caught my attention since I have never served, or been asked to serve, on a law firm management committee.  The article did not cite any studies or statistics regarding whether women are asked to serve on law firm management committees to the same degree as men.  At my last firm, however, one of the junior male associates told me that he thought it was odd that he was asked to serve on a committee while the very competent female associate who started at the same time he did was not asked.  Of course, I remember thinking, "Well, yeah, but you're just on the library committee."  On the other hand, I was never on any committees either and most of my male colleagues were.  I never really sat down and figured out who was on what committees, but it's possible this guy was on to something.  My plan at my current firm is to spend some time figuring out what committee would be desirable for me in terms of my talents and in terms of advancement within the firm, and then towards the end of the year lobby to be on that committee. 

4) ISOLATION.  One source quoted in the New York Times article noted "how lonely life at a law firm can feel for women if they stay on the partnership track and find fewer women around them as they ascend."  This source, who has since adjusted to life at her firm after establishing a thriving environmental law practice said, "I saw other women arrive at the firm, struggle, and leave  . . . I never felt like I belonged."  This is another area where I think being able to develop strong inter-personal relationships with male colleagues is important. I don't mean to put the onus entirely on women here either.  I think that professional men have a moral obligation to make sure that their female colleagues feel welcomed into the fold!  (Or vice-versa in female-dominated professions!)  It also makes good business sense for professional men -- since you never know when your colleagues, whether male or female, will be in a position to help you professionally. 

Women attorneys were very much a minority at my last firm, but I never felt isolated.  I worked with a great group of guys whom I still see regularly for lunch.  That having been said, it occurs to me that it is not at all a bad thing for women who are in the minority to reach out to each other.  At my last firm, the most senior woman in the firm took the initiative every quarter or every six months or so to get all the women attorneys together for lunch.  I thought that worked out very well -- but I would caution against women "clumping together" all the time, a phenomenon I have noted in my current firm and have described here.

5) SUBTLE BIASES AGAINST WOMEN. Another source in the article observed, "Women are held to higher standards, and if they don't jump up and down like a man would at a meeting they aren't seen as partnership material."   While I don't think I have necessarily seen or experienced this at either of my law firms, it rings true to me.  If a woman attorney behaves in a stereotypically feminine way (like speaking softly, or sounding hesitant), I can imagine people leaping to the conclusion quite quickly that she doesn't have the chops to be an "aggressive" litigator because her demeanor may seem to reaffirm pre-existing beliefs about women in general.  Of course, that kind of bias ignores the fact that being an "aggressive" litigator doesn't necessarily mean being a loud, in-your-face kind of personality.  In the best sense, aggressive litigation is more about being very prepared, being strategically aggressive, and never shying away from trying a case if necessary.  The problem is that even good lawyers may still equate an aggressive demeanor with being an aggressive litigator.

On the other hand, it's hard to parse out because I can imagine a quiet and diffident guy having problems too.  On the third hand, women may be more likely to be quiet and diffident due to socialization and cultural expectations and a woman's quietness and diffidence is more likely to reinforce ingrained beliefs about women's essential nature. 

I have no way of really knowing, but I think I may have experienced that kind of subtle gender bias in my first job as a prosecutor when I got fired.  That first year when I didn't know which way was up in a courtroom, I am sure that I came off as timid and I think that apparent timidity probably made me seem "girly" in a way that didn't go over well with my male boss.  The fact that I actually was getting results in some tough cases was not enough to counteract the deadly effect of my quiet demeanor.  On the other hand, except for my male boss, all the other lawyers in the office were women --but they were all macho, gunslinging women, or women who had established their professional competence before coming to this particular office.

I like to think that over the past eight years, I have developed a professional persona that is both assertive but not off-putting.  That can be a delicate balancing act for anyone but I think it can be a trickier proposition for women due to both internalized beliefs and external expectations.   Ideally a good professional persona requires a matter-of-fact willingness to state what one's needs and desires are and a refusal to compromise on the important things combined with reasonableness and a friendly (but not puppy-dog friendly) demeanor.

6) THE MATERNAL WALL.  The maternal wall is bad, bad news in my book.  The maternal wall refers to the assumption that mothers will be less willing to work hard than men or than childless women.  Nicole Black has observed in the comments on this site that a woman who leaves early to care for a sick child is viewed far less generously than a man who leaves early to play golf. 

Personally, as a childless woman, I have not had any direct experience with the maternal wall.  Tellingly enough, at my last firm, the 22 male lawyers all had kids, whereas the 8 female lawyers were all married but childless. I had a conniption at that firm when I discovered that the firm had a "maternity leave" policy but no "paternity leave" policy.  I had a second conniption when the partners looked at me like I had three heads when I said there needed to be a "paternity leave" policy.  Fortunately, they came around and adopted a paternity leave policy that was identical to the maternity leave policy.  (I should note that I didn't actually have a conniption in front of the partners.  In my capacity as an employment law advisor, I merely pointed out the potential discrimination claims that could arise from having an unequal leave policy.)

At my current firm, there are plenty of lawyers who are also mothers, but I have not been here long enough to get a sense as to whether there is a bias against them.  The president of my firm is herself a mother, although she took several years off when her children were young.   

7) SELF-PROMOTION.  I think this is another biggie.  For whatever reason, most likely to do with socialization from earliest childhood, women in general seem to be more reluctant to tout their accomplishments and to make demands than men are. I have already written at length about this here.  I think this general truth (backed up by at least one study) leads to a stereotype that makes it harder for even assertive women to negotiate salaries or partnerships.  If women are believed to be likely to accept what is offered without negotiating, then the incentive is to offer women less rather than more in the first instance, and then to stonewall attempts at negotiation. 

For me, it has taken a conscious effort and a lot of practice to get used to promoting myself.  Now I positively enjoy it.  I have no trouble informing or reminding a higher-up that I have tried a lot of difficult cases or that I have won important motions for summary judgment or what have you.  Heck, I'll even bring it up when I am speaking at a seminar.  It was harder for me to learn to ask for more money in salary negotiations but I was very glad during my last job switch that I forced myself to do it. 

I am not sure what the solution to this is other than trying to go against the grain on individual level.  I think one possibly beneficial step might be to teach students of both sexes at the high school, college, or graduate school levels how to most effectively conduct themselves in the business world.  It is crucial to know how to strike that balance between being too diffident and too overbearing.

Alright -- next up for tomorrow's installment, the real biggie: BILLABLE HOURS!  (Thunder clap!)   Stay tuned for more!


Yesterday, the New York Times published a comprehensive piece by Timothy L. O'Brien examining why there are so few women at the highest ranks of the major law firms.  The Times has developed a deservedly poor reputation in the feminist blogosphere due to the anti-feminist editorializing of columnists like John Tierney, David Brooks, and Maureen Dowd.  This piece, however, did not in any way patronize women or question the validity of some women's aspirations to high-powered positions in the legal world.  Indeed, the article highlights arguments that law firm partnerships can be wonderful things for the women who aspire to them, and that law firms benefit when they retain and promote talented women.  (Hat tip to A Pang for bringing this article to my attention!)

The article posits eight different factors that combine to make it difficult for women to ascend to the highest ranks of law firms.  In this series of posts, I will comment on each of the eight factors in light of my own experience as a woman in the legal profession.  I should note, however, that since I am only one individual, my experience is not at all representative.  I graduated from law school almost (gulp) nine years ago, and got myself into the courtroom on a near-daily basis right away by taking a job as a criminal prosecutor.  I had tried approximately fifty trials (most of them jury trials) by myself before I joined a private law firm almost four years ago.  I am used to trying cases against lawyers with 10, 20, or 25 years more experience than I. Also, because criminal cases go to trial much more frequently than civil cases, I have actually tried more cases than many people who are lot more senior to me in my law firm.  Thus, my public sector experience has imbued me with a lot more assertiveness with the higher-ups than I would probably have if I had started at a law firm right out of law school.

The article notes that only 17% of partners at "major law firms" are women.  I am not sure how the author defines a "major law firm" but I assume that term refers to the largest and most lucrative law firms.  I doubt that I work at what would be considered a "major law firm."  I started out working at a 30-attorney firm.  Now I work at an 80-attorney firm that is the largest in my state, but hardly a "major firm" compared to the powerhouses in big cities like New York, D.C., L.A., Chicago, Boston, etc.  I should also note that since I am a litigator, I don't have much to say about corporate or transactional attorneys.

Without further ado, the following are the factors identified in the article as hindering women's advancement in the private sector of the legal profession, starting in this post with the issues of mentoring and networking:

1) Mentoring The article notes that young lawyers of both sexes get sub-standard mentoring in large firms.  This is a product, in my view, of two factors. One, the pressure to spend time on billable hours -- matters that can be billed to clients -- provides a disincentive for more senior attorneys to spend time nurturing and guiding junior attorneys.  Two, because most civil matters tend to settle these days, there are very few opportunities for young lawyers to get courtroom experience. 

Nonetheless, at least one source in the article contends that male associates are far more likely to be mentored by higher-ups than female associates.  There is some speculation in the article that this may have to do with the fear by male higher ups that they will appear to be flirting with or coming on to the younger female associates.  Also this fear goes both ways. Female lawyers say, "[W]hy is a woman who hunts down her male boss for a chat seen as overly aggressive or possibly flirtatious, while a male doing the same thing is seen as merely ambitious?"

Personally, I have been very fortunate in having excellent mentors all the way through my career-- including the female District Attorney who was my boss for many years, a number of male mentors at my first law firm, and a wonderful male mentor at my current firm.  All of these people have been extremely generous with their time.  I have never had the sense that any of the men were worried about seeming "too close" to me because I am a woman.  My positive working relationships with these people resulted in part from my assertiveness in going to them and asking questions and volunteering for assignments.  I have to say it never once crossed my mind that anyone would perceive my assertiveness as inappropriate because of my gender.  As I have noted in the past, this is one area where I think being "ambi-social" (a term I've coined to indicate a feeling of social comfort with both sexes) is very important. 

That having been said, I have two observations:  I don't doubt that the fear of being perceived to be engaging in inappropriate or flirtatious sexual conduct IS a barrier for senior men and junior women who might otherwise have productive professional relationships with each other.  One area where I think this fear becomes particularly acute is in the area of business travel.  After I gave an anti-harassment training at one law firm (in my capacity as an employment litigator), a number of men confided in me that they would hesitate to invite a female associate on a business trip (an out-of-town deposition for example) because they would worry about potential awkwardness.  Female associates I questioned admitted that they, in turn, would hesitate to suggest that they participate in out-of-town business travel for fear of awkwardnes or of alienating the men's wives.

I am not sure what the solution to this awkwardness is -- but I would certainly recommend that women make a conscious decision not to worry about it.  Make a deliberate decision to be more assertive and keep your demeanor business-like and matter-of-fact. I generally charge ahead assuming that we are all grown-up professionals and that therefore sex is not an issue!    As for the men, I stress at the trainings I do that it is crucial not to let efforts to avoid harassment turn into discrimination.  Again, a business-like demeanor and an assumption that sex is absolutely not an issue are crucial on both sides!

2) Networking  Networking is an important issue because a large component of success in a law firm is the ability to generate business by gaining clients and retaining repeat clients.  A large part of gaining and retaining clients involves developing strong social relationships with them.  This can be hard if you're a woman and the clients are men.  It can be awkward to go out to dinner or drinks with an opposite-sex client.  Also, a lot of firm-client socializing involves attending sporting events or playing golf.   

On the bright side, I would note that networking is far from impossible for women.  First of all, a lot of client pools are actually female dominated.  Many law firm lawyers defend people in civil cases under their insurance policies.  The adjuster at the insurance company decides what lawyer to hire.  I don't know the statistics, but many, if not most, insurance adjusters are women.  Unfortunately, insurance companies pay the lowest rates of any kind of client.  So if your law firm judges you on the amount of revenue you bring in, insurance defense may be a difficult bet because the rates are lower and therefore, you have to work longer hours to compete with the higher paid commercial attorneys.  This need to work longer hours, however, can be difficult if you are a working mother who is shouldering a lot of responsibility at home as well as at the office. 

Another female-dominated client base are Human Resources Managers for large companies.  HR managers often make the hiring decisions when they need employment attorneys to defend the company against discrimination, harassment, or wrongful termination claims, or when they need attorneys to help conduct anti-discrimination training, draft employment policies, or figure out how to comply with various federal and state employment laws in particular cases.  This is fairly high-paying work and therefore it is desirable work in terms of trying to advance in a law firm.

Nonetheless, the very highest paid work for litigators is commercial litigation.  Corporate transactional (non-litigation) work on behalf of companies is, I think, even higher paid still.  The higher paying work you get, the more money you bring in, the greater your chances of advancement in the law firm.  Unfortunately, this most desirable client base of corporate decisionmakers tends, based on my observation, to be primarily male.  Therefore, I think it is fair to say that male attorneys have an advantage in terms of networking because they are networking primarily with their own sex when trying to win the highest paying and most desirable clients. 

Still, it is important to remember that social networking is only one piece of the puzzle and, also, I don't think that it's impossible for women lawyers to network socially among a male-dominated client base.  First, I think there are two things that are more valuable than social networking.  One thing is making your professional competence known among your client base.  You can do that by getting speaking engagements at conferences (or hosting your own conferences at your law firm), publishing articles in industry publications, and publishing their own law firm newsletters on topics of interest to your clients.  Another thing is to make sure that you are easy to work with.  Once you get a case, make sure that you always keep your client up to date on what is going on,  respond to phone calls and emails promptly, and be sensitive to your client's concerns, whatever they may be.  Working on a case with a client is one way to generate a strong social bond with the client-- just by talking on the phone about the case, attending depositions and mediations together.  Social skills, like humor and showing an interest in the other person, go a long way here. The client is always going to want to work with someone who is pleasant to work with rather than someone who is not.   

I should note that I can't claim to be a rainmaker yet, but I was recruited to my current position because of the strong reputation I have among police departments in my state from my time as a criminal prosecutor.  (I now represent police departments in civil suits.)  The cops want me to represent them because of how I treated them when I was a prosecutor: (a) I always kept them informed and took their opinions into account; (b) I developed friendly and jokey relationships with a lot of them and I always asked about their families (I feel like I spend half my life looking at pictures of cops' children!); (c) they perceive me as not being afraid to take a case to trial; and (d) I would  hang out with them in professional settings, like law enforcement conferences, or more recently, by participating in use of force training with them.  While my situation may be unusual, my broader point is that there are other ways to get your name out there than going to football games or playing golf. 

While social networking is not the be-all and end-all, it is also important to remember that social networking with a male client base is not impossible.  After all, who says you can't go to a football game or play golf or hang out with your male clients just because you're a woman? My marketing emphasis isn't on socializing so much, but I will socialize in groups with my male clients (one-on-one, especially after hours, is a little wierd, so  I don't recommend it), and I have been known to go to baseball games with my practice group and our clients.

But I don't try to pretend to be someone I am not.  I don't follow professional sports -- other than a very vague interest in hockey -- and so I don't try to talk sports with male clients.  There are plenty of other ways to relate other than sports talk.  And there is no way you will ever get me to play golf.  I figure it's far preferable to avoid playing golf than to flail around looking incompetent on the golf course.

That having been said, I was somewhat disturbed last year when my practice group was going to sponsor a team at a local golf tournament.  My male mentor automatically designated my male colleague and not me to play in the foursome we were sponsoring--despite the fact that my male mentor had no idea whether I can play golf or not.   I didn't protest because the truth is that I can't play golf (whole 'nother post coming up someday about not having any opportunity to develop athletic competence as a kid).  My solution was to invite myself to the post-tournament cocktail party (I may not be able to play golf but I am quite capable of downing a cocktail and eating finger foods!) While it wasn't a big deal in the big scheme of things for me, I think that women lawyers being left out of sports-related events can be a major problem. 

Those are just the first two factors. I'll pick this up tomorrow with a discussion of the remaining factors that may inhibit women's success in major law firms:

3) Arbitrary male control of key management committees

4) Isolation of women at law firms as they rise through the ranks while other women leave

5) Women being held to a higher standard, or stereotypes about women's alleged lack of aggression

6) Difficulties women have with self-promotion and making demands of their employers

7)  The "maternal" wall, or the assumption that women will be less willing or able to work hard once they have children

8)  The law firm emphasis on billable hours and the difficulties this poses for women with children. 


Ugh.  I just attended a bar association on women in litigation.  I am actually not a member of the Women's Bar Association.  Maybe that means I am a bad feminist.  I don't know.  But I have never felt disadvantaged as a woman in the profession and therefore I have never felt a need for a bar association just for women.  Nonetheless, I attended this particular event because (a) I am a feminist blogger so I should attend events like this and (b) a good friend of mine was running the event.

The panel consisted of some judges and heavy hitters in the profession and the discussion focused on work/life balance and how to function in the profession when you have small children.  And at the end, I got all excited and made an impassioned statement about how this issue shouldn't be automatically accepted as just a women's issue.  My arms might have been flailing when I was talking and some spit might have flown through the air. I am not sure my statement was completely coherent and it sure as hell wasn't well thought out. I have a vague feeling that perhaps I have just embarrassed myself in front of a number of very powerful and influential women in my profession.

Note to self -- don't make impromptu speeches in a professional setting about topics that  make you crazy.   


I have made reference in my prior posts on this subject to the fact that the vibe in an all-male group is quite different than the vibe in an all-female group.  I have probably exaggerated that fact a bit, as Ron O. has pointed out.  After all, men are capable of conversing about more important things than the sports page.  And that's exactly what I love the most about ambi-socializing.  I get a huge kick out of the fact that men and women are a lot more similar than not, and I think that's something that people too often forget, especially with the current popularity of humor based on gender differences or pop-psych books like the odious Men are From Mars, Woman are From Venus. 

Social conservatives often bemoan the blurring of gender distinctions-- but I think it's fabulous.  In law school and in the legal profession, I have really enjoyed the fact that my husband and I, along with our male and female friends, are in the same boat together having similar experiences.  We're out there hunting for the same jobs, honing the same skills, practicing our evidence flashcards together on a Saturday night (okay, okay, we were geeks), and getting a lot out of the fact that we know so much about what the other is experiencing.  Talking shop with my husband or with other lawyers, male and female, is one way of relating and remembering that we are all human, with similar drives and interests and ambitions and responses to certain situations. 

I don't think men and women need to be in the same profession to  be able to relate in this way.  Today, I see men and women in different professions, including stay-at-home moms, relating to each other on a level that didn't happen when I was growing up when the men talked shop in one corner and the women talked family-life in the other corner.  I think the blurring of the distinction between female-dominated spheres of life and male-dominated spheres of life is a wonderful thing, and can only help us all to see members of the other sex as fully human.  It's a lot harder for a man to view women as "the Other" when he is working on a joint project with a woman in the office next door, and then going out for drinks after work in a mixed gender group-- as opposed to a more traditionalist way of living in which husbands and wives have entirely distinctive responsibilities and concerns. 

Am I advocating some sort of bland androgyny? Well, no, I don't think across-the-board androgyny is really possible.  After all, there are basic differences between the sexes -- physical, sexual, and reproductive differences if nothing else.  We don't need to work too hard to preserve sexual distinctions, because they are right there before our very eyes every day.  I look different and sound different than the men with whom I work-- and I would look different and sound different even if I showed up in a coat and tie.  I also don't have the foggiest idea what it would be like to walk around in a six-foot-tall hairy male body and I don't know what it's like to experience sexuality as a man.  So for that reason there will always be some sense of mystery and distinction between the sexes so that we don't really need to belabor it.  Belaboring and exaggerating the distinctions between the sexes will always result in one sex or the other (and you know which one is the likely candidate) being marginalized or viewed as "less than."

Many years ago, a friend of mine had a boyfriend who was attending the Citadel (yes, the Citadel! Before it went co-ed!) and he and a group of his friends came up to our women's college.  The Citadel guys treated us with a sort of exaggerated chivalry.  One of them made a big deal about the fact that he would never swear in front of a woman, even though he indulged in foul language with great relish when he was with his buddies.  I like to think that these young men had the best of intentions, but the way they treated me made me feel as though they could never view me as one of them, or as fully human, or as someone capable of understanding them. And while the young Citadel students I met were nothing but courteous and kind to me, it still did not surprise me a couple of years later to hear of Citadel students torturing the women who tried to integrate the school.  Because it's going to be a lot harder to empathize or respect women when you live in a culture, like that of the Citadel, in which women were viewed as utterly distinct beings without commonalities with oneself. 

I can't say that mixed-gender socializing is the key to feminist nirvana, but it's one small step that helps.  Plus it's fun!


What prompted me to write the previous ambi-social post is my observation that the women in my law firm tend to clump together.  Of the 80-90 attorneys in my firm, about 35% are female, and that 35% tend to be younger and more junior on average than the male attorneys in the firm.  Whenever we have an attorney lunch (there's free lunch for the attorneys six times a month) or other meeting or social event, the young and mid-level women attorneys all arrive en masse in one large group and eat together.

I am friendly with all these women, and sometimes I will go out to dinner with a group of the women attorneys, and sometimes they will stop by to pick me up on the way to the attorney lunch down the hall.  But the clumping together makes me uneasy.  I worry that it generates the impression that the women attorneys are not confident enough as individuals to simply arrive on their own and interact with their male colleagues or the more senior attorneys (who are more likely to be male) without the support of their group.  I also worry that the women attorneys are foregoing the chance to forge relationships with the senior members of the firm-- relationships that their male colleagues at the same level are having less trouble with because they simply show up at a lunch and plop down with a group of guys at any level of seniority and start talking about sports or some such thing.  (By the way, I don't think you need to talk about sports to be "one of the guys."  I never do.  I usually talk about my cases or their cases or something I saw in the news or some local bar association gossip.) 

That's what got me thinking about being ambi-social.  I think that the comfort level I have developed with socializing with men as "one of the guys" has directly benefited me professionally.  I joined a firm (a different one than the one I'm at now) of about 90% men when I first started learning the ropes of civil litigation-- and I think that the comfort level the more senior men had with me from just chit-chatting and socializing with me in turn led them to assign me a lot of work.  I was spread a bit thin (assigned to four different practice groups as opposed to the usual one or two) but I had the opportunity to showcase my abilities much more than people who had not forged cordial and comfortable relationships with the higher-ups. Having the opportunity to deliver results in turn helped my progress in the firm.  The social comfort level I had with the men who were above me in the hierarchy also made the work I did on those cases more comfortable and more productive for me-- because I wasn't self-conscious about giving these guys my opinion or popping into their offices to have necessary conversations about whatever cases we were working on. 

Of course, this all sounds a bit Uncle Tom-ish.  After all, isn't there something wrong with the fact that most of the power in my firm is found in male hands, and that I have to try to be "one of the guys" in order to succeed?  Well, yeah.  But that's the reality I find myself in, and even if things were more equal in my workplace, I would still have to work with a lot of men and having a certain degree of social comfort with these guys -- whether they are senior to me, junior to me or equal to me-- goes a long way towards making the working life easier.

I should also note that it goes both ways.  My husband is ambi-social too.  Although he is in many ways an Aerosmith-listening, football-watching  standard-issue American male, he is quite capable of socializing comfortably with a group of women (a fact that I noticed many years ago when we were hanging out with two other couples, both lesbian couples, and suddenly I realized that he was the only man in the room and that these were his friends). My husband now finds himself working in a female-dominated non-profit and doing quite nicely.  There was also a male paralegal in my last firm whose career tanked because he was clearly uncomfortable working with the female attorneys. 


There has been some recent discussion in the press and the blogosphere of a study by sociologists Bradford Wilcox and Steven Nock purporting to show that married women with traditionalist values are more likely to be happy than married women with feminist values.  My first thought upon hearing of this study was:  "Oh for Pete's sake: of course women with traditionalist views are more likely to be happy.  They aren't fighting an uphill battle against ingrained behavioral and cultural patterns.  They aren't trying to grab the brass ring of success on masculine terms while simultaneously being held to a standard of good parenting and homemaking that still generally applies only to women.  They aren't working full time in a demanding job only to come home to find that they are primarily responsible for all the housework and childcare."    Women with feminist values are obviously going to be a tadsy bit frustrated.   

My second thought in response to this study is why the heck am I constantly seeing articles that pose this question of whether feminism makes women happy?  It's the wrong question!  We never see articles that talk about whether democracy will make the Iraqis happy or whether equal rights for African-Americans have made them happy or whether our civil liberties make us Americans happy.  I don't think those who fought the American Revolution said to themselves, "Wouldn't we be happier if we simply accepted taxation without representation rather than fighting this rather unpleasant war?" 

To frame the effectiveness of feminism in terms of whether it makes women happy is just one more way of patronizing women.  It smacks of, "Oh, but the slaves are so well-fed and content on the plantation" or "you'll be so much if it happier simply accepting the status quo rather than challenging it."  For example, I might very well be happier than I am now if I were a well cared for corgi, or a five-year old child, or someone who has had a lobotomy.  But that doesn't mean that becoming a corgi or reverting to childhood or having a lobotomy are acceptable outcomes.  I wouldn't wanna be happy if it meant giving up freedom and equality and respect. 

Feminism is about freedom and equality of opportunity for women as a class. Happiness, in turn, is up to the individual and there are no guarantees.  To require feminism to serve up happiness on a platter for women is to ask of it something that is not asked of any other political or cultural movement or philosophy.  And I think it's disingenuous. 


Hello, all! I knew this week was going to be a bit hairy, but it's turned out to be even hairier than I realized.  I took a deposition yesterday that I thought was going to take half a day, and instead it wound up taking nine hours (including questioning by another lawyer, not just me, and lots of arguments with the witness's lawyer about what questions the witness should not have to answer for legal reasons).  Plus there was four hours of travel time, plus some frantic running around in the morning when I got some records from the other side at the last minute that I needed review in order to conduct the deposition properly. So it was quite a day-- I didn't get home until midnight. 

And I have another round of depositions in that same case all day Friday, so I suspect that normal posting will not resume until some time on Saturday. 

I have had an abnormally quiet few months in the office, but now things are heating up again, and I anticipate there may be times when I won't be able to post with my usual regularity.  Meanwhile, feel free to stay here a while.  Mi casa es su casa.  Or you can head over to the Koufax Awards, per my last post, and check out all the nifty progressive blogs (remembering to vote for me before you leave, natch). 


In discussing fundamentals of  femonism with TangoMan in recent threads, I have referred frequently to my own post on Feminism 101.  I have been thinking about revising my definition of feminism to include a statement about the "cultural dignity" of women.  More on that later once I have a chance to think it through.  If I manage to find a moment during the rather hairy day I have ahead of me, I will address a post to Tango's question "Why feminism? Why not just human rights in general?"  I touched on this briefly in the Feminism 101 post, but I have more to say about that.

Meanwhile, check out Bitch, Ph.D's description of her own brand of feminism. It is similar to my own, except that I am not sure what she means when she says "the body is irreducible."  Here it is:

In many ways, I suspect my feminism is fairly bourgeois. I don't want a revolution that doesn't allow me to dance, flirt, and buy shoes. On the other hand, my feminism is fairly absolute in that I will not allow myself (or others) to demonize "radical feminists" or to ignore poor women or women of color, and I object very strongly when I see women fighting with each other over crumbs. I'm sure I do it too, sometimes, but I try very hard not to. My feminism is material in the sense that I believe that the body is irreducible (more and more so, as I age, and more since becoming a mother). I do not believe that there are no differences between men and women; but I believe that what differences there are have been vastly exaggerated by social conditioning, and I reject essentialism. My feminism likes men, and is sympathetic to the ways that they, too, suffer from narrow definitions of gender. My feminism insists on being heard, and will not give up a fight, and will not back down. On the other hand, my feminism deplores unfairness, meanness, and insensitivity. I believe in principles, including the principle that people matter. I believe in forgiveness and second chances, and in teaching, and in learning; and I also believe in having high expectations and firm boundaries. My feminism is polemical but embraces ambiguities. My feminism is aggressive and protective.


The Geeky Feminist and Poppycock write about the difficulty of talking over issues with other feminists who have an academic background in feminism. I have to admit that my academic knowledge of feminism is negligible.  I have only read the following books about feminism or gender issues (none of which I am necessarily endorsing):

-- The First Sex by Elizabeth Gould Davis (my view on this book can be found here).

-- The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

-- Most everything Camille Paglia has written (I have lots to say about her so that will follow at some point, I promise.)

-- Deborah Tannen's books about how men and women communicate differently

-- Who Stole Feminism? by Christina Hoff Summers

-- The Frailty Myth by Collette Dowling

-- A jumble of stuff by Mary Daly, Carol Christ, and a number of Jewish, Christian, Muslim and pagan feminists in the one and only Women's Studies class I took, a course called "Feminist Theologies."

-- Stuff in popular publications like The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, and the like.

Other than that I know virtually nil about feminist theory.  It took me a long time to figure out that the term "patriarchy" does not actually refer to an imagined cabal of sinister white men controlling everything from the top.  I don't know too much about the "male gaze" so I just don't talk about it one way or the other. I also don't know about the critiques of feminist academic theory.  But I don't think that you need to have to be perfectly acquainted with every academic idea out there to be effective in discussing feminist issues.  I simply start with my basic feminist axiom (that ensuring women's freedom and equality of opportunity in all spheres of life is a crucial priority) and work from there. 

In the blogosphere, I have learned a tremendous amount from feminists with an academic background, feminists who are just ordinary women, and non-feminists.  I evaluate what I hear in terms of my axiom and, while I feel that academic feminism contributes immensely to the discussion, we ordinary folks have a lot to add too.  I doubt anyone would question that. 

Feminism is a big tent.  While I think the academic perspective is valuable, feminism would quickly become a sterile discussion if it were closed off to voices of women who are shaped by real world experiences outside of academe.  In my experience, feminists are generally welcoming to a number of different voices-- from the professor to the housewife to the factory worker to the non-western woman to the religious woman to gay, bisexual or transgendered women to sex workers to male feminists and to anyone and everyone else who cares about women's equality.  Yes, some feminist groups and movements have been guilty of focusing on only certain types of women, but I think feminists have been receptive to that criticism and have or are working hard to change that.  And yes, some feminists may at times criticize certain women's choices-- like sex work (when it is a choice) or being a homemaker (when it is a choice)-- while other feminists may exalt those as valid choices.  But it is a big tent with room for everyone who cares about women's freedom and equality. 

The Geeky Feminist touches on another issue I have been thinking about a lot-- the role of our emotional responses in shaping our feminism.  The Geeky Feminist feels that she can identify injustices but at times doesn't have much to add beyond, "#*(!*!)!"  The academic feminist discourse seems intimidatingly cerebral to her, and she also worries about losing credibility by responding to issues in too impassioned a way.

I have, I think, a fairly cerebral approach to things, but I have learned to listen to and then assess my emotions as well.  As I have said frequently, I am passionate about feminism.  Feminist issues are deeply emotional because they go to the core of how we live our lives, the degree of respect we enjoy, the degree of freedom we enjoy, and the equality of opportunity we enjoy.  When someone makes an argument or takes an action that we perceive as impinging on our dignity and freedom, well yeah, duh, of course, we're going to feel heated about that.  I don't think there's anything wrong with that.  I don't think there's anything wrong with venting or having a blog that says, "#*()!*#)!*)!#*!)"

But I do think that we should all be able to take a step back and assess our emotional responses because, if we don't, then we are at risk of losing personal credibility.  After all, the anti-feminists of various types are plenty emotional too -- so emotion doesn't solve the question of who is right.  That having been said, I don't think discounting emotion is wrong either. 

I have strong emotional responses to all sorts of things in my personal life and things that I read about on the news.  I used to discount my emotional responses.  But now I listen to them and assess them.  I will say to myself, "Gee, I have a visceral reaction to X. Why do I feel this way and am I correct to feel this way?"  Listening to my emotions has, I think, given me a lot of insight.  For example, the Larry Summers transcript made me angry (and no I don't want to rehash that debate on this thread, I bring this up to show how I deal with emotion in my thinking). When I was younger, I would have said to myself, "Happy, you're being unreasonable.  Even if you don't like it, he has a right to an opinion."  The older me says, "Happy, is there a reason that you feel angry at Summers and is it justified?"  And when I re-read the transcript, I realized that what bothered me wasn't that he was broaching a possibility I didn't like but that he was endorsing a conclusion prejudicial to women without seeming to know much about the topic.  There have been other times when I have concluded that, "Gee, Happy, you're overreacting.  There's another side to this."  But I no longer simply discount my emotional responses.  Usually, my emotional response is a first indicator of a valid point view, even if it may not turn out to be the point of view that should prevail.

I don't think you need an academic degree in feminism to be able to place your emotional responses to things in proper context.  And it's also important to remember that a blog is not an academic journal.  If you want to use a blog to talk about your personal experiences and impressions, I think that's great.  After all, the feminist movement gained power in the U.S. in part because discontented suburban housewives stopped saying, "I guess I'm just neurotic," and started examining the broader societal issues that affected their lives in ways that caused those initial emotional feelings of unhappiness and discontent. 


I am not sure I will have a chance to write a real blog post today, so I thought I would share this back and forth between me and Darren from this thread.  For those familiar with the feminist blogosphere, I think these issues have been treated far more thoroughly and intelligently than I could hope to do here.  (Grrr...I cannot seem to find Lauren's brilliant post at Feministe.)

But here's the back and forth so far (edited slightly for clarity):

DARREN mentions a thread on his blog here on the man's right to choose and then goes on to say: Happy Feminist, I'm concerned about equality before *the law*. Right now you get what you *his* loss. Again, not a penalty, but a choice.  Neither wants the child? Vacuum it out --superiority before the law. Justice tilts the scales in favor of the women. Like Anonymous/Dan said [on Darren's thread], if the woman wants to have a child and the man doesn't, he should be able to dissociate himself physically, emotionally, and financially from the child. For the woman that's not a *penalty*, that's a *choice* that she accepts. Both have had a choice in this situation.  If the man wants the child and the woman doesn't, Anonymous Dan posits that the woman can abort the child but must pay financial restitution to the man for t out.

The second a feminist (or anyone else for that matter) wants to hide behind "the best interest of the child" I wonder why the child has to actually be born before they make that argument. And why that argument only works to a woman's advantage.

You want equality? I offer it to you here.

HF responds:

It sounds to me like you're proposing special rights for men. As citizens of this country , men and women have the right to control our own reproductive systems. That is, you have the right to decide whether to have sex and whether to use a condom, just as a woman has the right to decide whether to have sex or use the contraceptive methods available to her. Because you are a man, you are not burdened by pregnancy.

Women are burdened by pregnancy. It is through the hard, risky and draining work performed by the woman's body that a baby is created from the fertilized egg. Your demand to be consulted if she chooses not to undergo that burden would be a special right for men, above and beyond the bodily autonomy that we all enjoy. You are demanding that she either give her body for nine months to the service of creating this baby or, in the alternative, that she pay you off for your "loss." Your loss would apparently be that she did not put her body and potentially her health (pregnancy and birth being a rather risky processes) at the service of the result you would want to see. Either way, under your proposed scenario, the woman is under your control because she had sex with you and has to "pay" in some way either by abiding by your wish that she undergo the pregnancy or by giving you restitution. I fail to see how this can in any way be considered "equality."

While the fact that you yourself cannot create a baby and give birth is indeed also lack of equality, that is a biological reality, not something feminists or the law did to you. Trust me, if we could have you men undertake pregnancy instead, we would.

Your question about child support is a completely separate issue from the question of whether a woman can be forced to undergo the physical burdens of pregnancy and childbirth-- and frankly I don't really see the connection to the issue of whether a woman has the right to choose an abortion on her own, unless you are somehow proposing that you should have the right to choose to force her to abort? The sad fact is that the child has the right to have its physical and other basic needs met once it is born. If I understand the law correctly, the woman may not necessarily have the right to waive the child's right to support if it turns out she herself cannot support the child.

Unfortunately, basic biology burdens both men and women unequally. It isn't the law that favors women in being able to control whether a child results after conception -- it's biology. To give a man the right to control or get restitution for that decision would be to give the man special rights over the woman's body. Sorry, but them's the breaks.

More HF:  Actually re-reading your comment, Darren, it is actually amazing how you could possibly view your proposed scenario as "equality" in any way, shape or form. Suppose a man and woman engage in mutually consensual act and conceive :

-- Man wants baby and woman wants to abort: She has to pay resitution to him.

-- Man doesn't want baby and does: She has to pay all child support.

Either way, you want the woman to "pay" while the man either gets restitution for his "loss" or gets to wash his hands of all responsibility. Sounds nice.

NOTE:  I don't mean to belittle the very real emotion a man may feel about a pregnancy he helped to cause.  I use the term "loss" in quotation marks because I don't think it is a loss that can be compensated in market terms.  That doesn't mean a man might not feel a sense of emotional loss.  Ideally, of course, I would hope the kind of scenarios raised here would  be rare-- that people would practice responsible contraception, that the contraception would work, and that in the event a pregnancy did occur, the parties could work out any conflict in a mutually acceptable way.  Cumbayah!

UPDATE:   I should point that in the post Darren's talking about, Anonymous/Dan tries to resolve the inequity I point out here, by proposing that the woman would have to pay the man if she chooses to abort against his will, but the man would have to pay the woman if she carries the child that she doesn't want.  Somehow, this doesn't make it "equal" in my book -- either way the woman would always have some sort of burden in this scenario, while the man could walk away from an unwanted child. 

The sad fact is that biologically, we are woefully unequal in terms of reproduction.  And while I know it is frustrating for a lot of men that they are not the primary decisionmaker regarding the fetus during pregnancy, there is not presently any way to fix that without unjustly burdening the woman. 

I have started to consider the futuristic (but I suppose potentially real possibility) that we could create wombs that exist separate from the mother and which would allow the mother to wash her hands of the fetus while the father could choose to take the zygote/embryo/fetus and raise it as a single father.  I am going to ponder that for a while.  Meanwhile, color me cynical, but somehow I can't picture too many men lining up for single fatherhood right out of the gate.   


I have found myself thrilled virtually every day this month by all the wonderful posts I am reading around the "femosphere."  There have been SO many wonderful posts that I can't keep track of them all, but here are some that I can think of and find right now.

Reproductive Rights

-- Dr. Violet Socks at the Reclusive Leftist publishes some shocking statistics (provided by the lovely Will, a frequent commenter here) regarding the paucity in the U.S. of facilities where abortions are performed.  I should note, per my prior post regarding my preference for women OB/Gyns, that this is one area where we don't necessarily have the luxury to choose a female over a male doctor.  I say hear, hear to all the doctors who are brave enough to risk violence and picketing and censure and other hassles in order to provide this service that is so necessary to the freedom, autonomy and dignity of women.    

-- Twisty crystallizes the nature of the debate on choice:  It is incomprehensible that politicians . . .  have the slightest say in the manner in which a private citizen decides to dispatch a clumps of cells infesting her own personal bodily tissues.

-- Amanda at Pandagon (who has been a major influence on my thinking about abortion) sums it all up here.  I especially like her discussion of late-term abortion, which is an issue I haven't focused on sufficiently:

Late term abortions provoke quite understandable anxiety, which would be why they are quite rare and performed mostly because the pregnant women are sick or the fetus is dead or dying, and continuing the pregnancy is a very bad idea. But the anti-choice campaign about late term abortions was about grossing people out by lingering over the details and then implying that evil women and doctors actually seek out this procedure out of some sort of sick baby hatred.  But the main purpose behind the late term abortion ban had nothing to do with saving babies, especially since so many of the babies invoked were already dead or had brains on the outside or something. The main purpose behind getting the law passed was to challenge the health exception clauses in abortion restrictions, the hope being, I suppose, that by distracting the public with alarming stories of late term abortion parties, they would be able to hide the fact that they are actively fighting for laws that make it so even “good” women who want to have babies should have an option if their pregnancies are going south and quickly, because they know full and well the American public doesn’t support forcing women to give childbirth against their will, and it’s fairly easy to argue that a woman who’s fixing to die or go blind or give birth to a stillborn should be able to terminate.

-- Nick Kiddle (a new mother herself) at Alas (a blog) answers the question "What if your mother was pro-choice?" (Mine was and is, by the way.) 

Larry Summers

-- Ampersand at Alas (a blog) posts a variety of thoughts about the conservative squawking over Larry Summers, including a round-up of links that critique the Larry Summers transcript.  Ampersand's post goes beyond the specifics of Larry Summers to talk more generally about different styles of debate.  Great stuff!

Islamic Feminism rocks  (Hat Tip: Mind the Gap!)

-- At Known Turf, Annie Zaidi, a Muslim from India, questions the conventional wisdom (in Islamic circles) that Islam is the best possible deal for women.  (My two cents:  I also grew up hearing that Mohammed was a feminist in that he advocated vast improvements in women's roles and rights.  The problem is we're talking vast improvements given the situation fifteen hundred years ago!  Unfortunately, the view of women's rights in much of the Islamic world has remained stuck in that time period or has even regressed.)

-- At Nzhinga's soap box, an American Muslim woman living in Saudi Arabia insists that she should have the right to question and criticize misogynist and sexist rulings by Islamic clerics.

-- The Religious Policeman takes down the Saudi Parliament's refusal to act to allow Saudi woman to drive.  (Yes, you read that correctly.  Women are not allowed to DRIVE in Saudi Arabia.)

Sexual Harassment

Feministe calls out a dirty old man, 84-year old Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer for publicly humiliating a 24-year old woman assistant based on her sex.  More disturbing to me than this guy's failure to see this woman as a human being with a right to some dignity (after all, he is quite elderly and therefore the product of another era that I like to think is dead) is the fact that members of the audience laughed and the governor of Maryland failed to acknowledge the problem. 

bell hooks

I have to admit that there are very few feminist thinkers with whose work I am familiar-- and bell hooks is one of those with whom I am unacquainted.  I have also had a slight prejudice against her because she doesn't capitalize the letters in her name-- and yes, I know that's dumb of me.  But Hadhifa Sofia's posts on a recent lecture hooks gave at Reed College made me realize that I need to learn more about hooks. See the excellent blow-by-blow of the lecture here and here.

A place for men in feminism

Holly at Self Portrait As . . . discusses the role of men in feminism: No righteous cause (and I use that term advisedly) ever truly succeeds until even those who benefit from an unjust system begin to work to overthrow it. Slavery would still exist were it not for the efforts of those who were NOT slaves.  She also touches on what men shouldn't do during a feminist discussion (i.e. derail it). 

Some of the reasons Hollywood is irritating

Peacebang takes on the oh-so-cute habit public figures have of manhandling women stars in Hollywood.  She then critiques the ugliness of the recent Vanity Fair cover featuring a nude Scarlett Johannssen, a nude Keira Knightly, and a fully-clothed Tom Ford.  At least, Scarlett feels comfortable displaying her non-anorexic nude body, so that's a silver lining of sorts. 

Gosh, I could go on and on. I haven't given a shout-out to my pals at The Galloping Beaver or Lawyers, Guns and Money or Cellar Door lately, and I have also been meaning and meaning and meaning to update my blogroll (I hope next weekend).  I am a BAD citizen of the blogosphere.  Enjoy!


I don't want this blog to turn into the Richard-and-Happy Show, but this is just too delicious not to highlight.   In this thread, Richard began complaining about feminist bloggers and, sucker that I am, I took the bait:

HF: . . . You persistently read complaints regarding bad male behavior and the ways in which certain cultural pressures encourage same as feminists saying ALL men are bad.

Richard then responds, "I'm reading the plain meaning of the words, and the words embrace all men."  He then quotes a number of snippets from around the blogosphere including a gem from this post at Pandagon:

PANDAGON: There is a little known fact that male dominance and the biological reality of men are one and the same thing, due to a curse laid on half the human race by the wicked Witch Mispenasa. It’s said that if ever women should achieve equality with men, men will cease to exist altogether.

One would think the reference to a non-existent WITCH would tip him off, but oh no.  I guess we feminists have an obligation to always state what we mean with absolute literal precision so newbies like Richard won't get confused and hurt-- which of course means we can never ever ever indulge in verbal irony.

By the way, the full context of the statement is a debunking of "Feminist Myths 101" including the myth that "Feminists Hate Men."  Here is the full paragraph:

Feminists hate men.

This myth is frequently trotted out by the exact same people who think that we think we are men. That said, there is a little known fact that male dominance and the biological reality of men are one and the same thing, due to a curse laid on half the human race by the wicked Witch Mispenasa. It’s said that if ever women should achieve equality with men, men will cease to exist altogether. So if feminists are fighting against male dominance, we have no choice but to believe they are out to destroy men themselves. 


In the comments thread to this post, my friend Mrs. B poses the following excellent question regarding marriage:

I have a question for you HF. In a situation where neither person is in charge, what happens when you both vehemently disagree with how to handle something....who gets to make the final decision? I realize that in some things compromise might work but in some decisions it wouldn't. For instance, in a post several months ago you mentioned that you went to boarding school and think it is a good thing but your husband detests (your word) them. If you had a child, who would get to make that decision and why?

I guess what I don't understand is that in every other sphere of life, *someone* is in charge. All companies have a hierchy, the military does....every other facet of life does (can you imagine a company being successful when everyone has EQUAL decision making power?) I can almost anticipate your repsonse of 'so why does it have to be the man?'....would you be willing to admit that even if it's not the man that there *is* someone in charge in all relationships? If that is the case then it's not an 'equal' relationship....meaning equal in power.

This is something I have thought about a lot because my very authoritarian father constantly said the same thing to me when I was growing up  -- that someone has to be in charge in every marriage.  I disagreed with him then and I disagree now after having been married myself for over eight years. 

I do value hierarchies in many situations -- like coordinating a military operation, trying a court case, or running a Fortune 500 company.  But marriage is not like those things. Its aims and goals are far more diffuse than merely winning a battle or making a profit.  Also, marriage lasts a lifetime, unlike military or corporate leadership where the junior members can look forward to supplanting the leaders when they retire.  And finally, marriage is small-scale enough that constant negotiation and concensus can and does work.   

First, I will talk about some issues where my husband and I have not seen eye to eye and how we resolved those issues, and then I will derive some general principles from these examples.

-- When we first became engaged, my husband really wanted me to change my last name to his.  I really didn't want to.  Bottom line, it was my name we were talking about so I had the last call.  I kept the last name I was born with and have never regretted it.  My husband has fully accepted my decision.  When we're in public (in the grocery store for example), he'll often call me "Attorney _______."  It's cute and I feel very loved when he does that.

-- My husband also wanted a large wedding with all his friends and relatives, whereas  I would have preferred to elope, go out for lunch afterwards, and perhaps avoid going bankrupt in the process.  But my husband had very strong feelings on the matter so we put together a large wedding.  I'm thrilled that he got his way on this.  I've done a 180 from not caring that much about weddings to now being a wedding junkie-- and I'll always look back fondly on the period when we planned the wedding together (our first joint venture!) and celebrated the exchange of our vows with everyone we knew.  (We clashed at times during the wedding planning process.  I had strong feelings about not signing up for a gift registry so we didn't.  He had strong feelings about not wanting to cut the cake, so we didn't.) 

-- My husband would have preferred me to give up my county prosecutor's job much sooner to start making some real money to pay off our educational debts and save for a house.  But I was having a ball and learning a lot in my job and it was my career we were talking about.  I didn't leave my county prosecutor's job until I was good and ready, until it struck me as a wise professional move to switch to a private law firm. My husband understands and values the decisions I made even if the years I spent making little money put a dent in our finances.

-- I probably would have preferred that my husband not take a substantial pay cut in order to work for a non-profit.  It would be nice to have his full law-firm salary so we could put our house together sooner and make more of a dent in our loans.  But I didn't even question it when my husband announced that he wanted to give up 50% of his pay in order to represent indigent people with disabilities.  After all, it's his career.  And the fact is, it is more important to me than anything that he be happy with what he is doing professionally.

-- When we happened to wander into a pet store one day, we both fell in love immediately with the same corgi puppy.  My husband wanted to buy him immediately, but I didn't want to make a hasty decision.  I didn't think that we could manage to care for the puppy properly with the 12-hour work days we were both putting in at that time.  I insisted that we go to lunch and talk it through.  Over lunch, my husband assured me that I wouldn't have to worry about a thing, that he would take full responsibility for ensuring the proper care of the puppy.  On that understanding, we bought our corgi that afternoon-- probably the best decision we have ever made.  Of course, I was so in love with our corgi that I wound up contributing equally to his care.  We worked out an arrangement whereby the corgi came to work with me one day a week, we each worked from home one day week, and we paid for daycare on the other two days!  Now my husband always teases me about how I "didn't want" the dog. (And yes, I know we shouldn't patronize pet stores because the dogs come from puppy mills, but we couldn't help it -- it was love at first sight.)

-- My husband is in charge of planning the house we are going to build (he has more time and more friends who are builders) so he gets to make more of the decisions related to that.  I have been in charge of planning the trips we have taken so I have had more control over that.

So what general principles govern our marriage? Well first, I should note that we actually clash very rarely.  This is due in part to the fact that our values and preferences are very similar to begin with.  I would not have married someone who was (for example) not career-oriented or who hated dogs or was anti-feminist, because such a person would be against the things I hold most dear.  I believe that if a husband and wife are on the same page about core values and try in good faith to compromise when differences arise, everything can be worked out. 

It is also important that we are both laid-back and not controlling -- our disagreements when we have them never turn into a battle of wills.  I don't go into a disagreement with my husband determined to "win," but to reach a mutually acceptable result.  A mutually acceptable result could mean I get my way, or it could mean he gets his way, or it could mean some sort of middle-ground. 

When we have disagreed, the person who feels most strongly or who is most affected by a decision prevails.  We each have the absolute last word regarding our own careers regardless of how those careers affect the other.  (We have committed to staying in this locality so there will never be a clash where one of us finds a plum job in another part of the country.)

Sometimes certain tasks or goals like building a house or planning a vacation get delegated to one person or another. That person is "in charge" but the other person is consulted and has veto power. 

Having kids, of course, would be a major test of our relationship because there would suddenly be the well-being of a third person to consider.  Fortunately, both of us are strongly opposed to spanking but in favor of setting boundaries and refusing to tolerate bad behavior by children -- so I think we will be on the same page with regard to discipline.  We have discussed the boarding school and the Catholicism issue which are where we would suffer a major values clash. (My husband is a cultural Catholic who would like to bring up his children as Catholics.)  We have agreed to try to make boarding school an option for our child and to expose our child to Catholicism (as well as to my criticisms of Catholicism) via discussion and occasional church services (ha! I'll believe it when I see it -- a church-goer my husband is not).  Ultimately, we're not going to force our child to go to boarding school or become a Catholic-- or prohibit him or her from doing so.  The final decision will be the child's.  We both believe strongly as a general matter in nurturing rather than controlling our child's emerging preferences (within some obvious limits -- obviously we're not going to nurture a child's growing interest in drugs or pornography!). 

CAVEAT: I should note that we are not perfect human beings (at least, I'm not!) so I don't want to imply that we've never been angry or frustrated with each other, because, of course, we have!  But on the whole, I think we do a pretty good job of accommodating each other's desires and needs while accomplishing things like reducing our debt and nurturing our careers. 


I got a huge kick out of this post by a 52-year old woman weight lifter on the still prevalent assumption that women shouldn't build up their upper body strength or that it's ridiculous for us to try.  (Hat tip: Twisty).

My first semester in college, I and a group of my new dorm-mates tried out for the novice crew team.  The try-outs lasted a week and were incredibly competitive-- probably because my college had a very strong rowing program.  The distressing thing was that a number of my friends who were going through try-outs with me were upset at the prospect of possibly building up their back and shoulder muscles.  Several young women I knew considered dropping out of the try-outs because they didn't want to become "too muscular."  The problem was widespread enough that the coach actually called all of us together to "reassure" us that increased muscle mass would result in a leaner rather than a bulkier look.

I was absolutely distraught that young women of my generation in the year 1989 would actually view becoming stronger as a negative thing.  I remember saying to one of my friends over and over, "What could possibly be wrong with becoming more physically capable?" and "Doesn't it bother you that standards of attractiveness seem incongruent with female strength?" and "Don't you want to give the bird to those who prefer us in a state of frailty?"

Unfortunately, I haven't yet had the subversive pleasure of becoming a weight lifter myself.  I was rejected from the college crew team for being too short, and my default sport of long-distance running actually encourages a physique that is consistent with popular beauty standards for women.  But during those times in college when the topic of weight lifting came up (we long distance runners do lift a little bit even if upper strength isn't the emphasis of the sport), some young man would invariably squeeze my bicep and make some mocking comment-- as though my even daring to invade the male province of weight lifting was somehow pure silliness. 

Another observation:  I have a copy of Collette Dowling's book, The Frailty Myth, on my bookshelf at work.  To a man, every single dude who picks up this book, says, "You do realize don't you that women are actually weaker on average than men?"  Every single one says something like this!  It's really quite amazing! Talk about missing the point . . .

Here's the thing.  I want to be as physically strong and fit as I can be.  Due to severe time constraints in my life at the moment, that's not very strong or fit, unfortunately.  But one day I would love to be as strong as the woman who wrote the post linked above.  It's not about besting men (although that's potentially a fun side benefit), and it's not about trying to conform to some societal standard of attractiveness.  It's about trying to be as physically capable as possible.  Being physically capable has to be viewed as a good thing for everyone, doesn't it?!?!? To the extent that prejudices and norms of attractiveness discourage women from fully developing all of their physical gifts, I say screw that. 

UPDATE:  Check out Hugo's post entitled My Wife Could Beat Me Up: A Note on Women and Muscles.  In fact, check out Hugo's whole blog.  Hugo is my favorite evangelical Christian feminist blogger and my role model for encouraging civil and rational discussion of touchy issues. 


Larry Summers, the President of Harvard University, has resigned, citing his rift with the faculty of the university as the primary factor in his decision. Summers's comments on gender at a conference on Diversifying the Science and Engineering Workforce last year surely contributed to the faculty's recent vote of "no confidence" in Summers (although there were also many other reasons for the faculty's distaste).  Of course, people are bound to start howling again that Summers is the "victim" of campus "political correctness" run amok. 

So it is worth a reminder today that Summers's comments were, in fact, shockingly prejudiced to the detriment of women.  This was NOT an instance in which feminists simply didn't want to hear an idea that might contradict our worldview.  This was an instance in which the head of a major research university stated at an official event that he believes that women do not tend to advance to tenured positions at major research universities because (a) they don't WANT to put in the punishing 80 hour work weeks that are required and (b) genetic biological factors disfavor women's achievement at the highest levels in math and science.  He stated that this was his opinion, even while also admitting that we don't actually KNOW whether this is the case.  In other words, he WASN'T just broaching an idea for further investigation -- he was endorsing a particular point of view regarding women's inferiority in a particular field while simultaneously admitting that he couldn't support his point of view.  If that isn't prejudice, what is?  And is it unreasonable for the faculty to be concerned that the guy in charge of tenure decisions and university policy is admitting to this kind of  prejudice regarding the inherent inferiority of a particular group? I think not. 

Here are some doozies from Summers's original remarks (you can read the entire transcript here):

--  The other prefatory comment I would make is that I am going to . . . just try to think about and offer some hypotheses as to why we observe what we observe [i.e. the underrepresentation of women in tenure science positions at top universities] without seeing this through the kind of judgmental tendency that inevitably is connected with all our common goals of equality . . . I think it's important to try to think systematically and clinically about the reasons for the underrepresentation.

Ok, that would be nice if that's what he actually did.  But instead of thinking about anything non-judgmentally or clinically, he then goes on to endorse particular hypotheses, even as he admits that we haven't studied them sufficiently.  And, of course, the particular hypotheses he endorses without sufficient study are the ones that let Harvard off the hook for any gender disparities in its tenured science faculty!    Summers tries to have his cake and eat it too -- he wants to express his unsupported prejudices while hiding behind words like "systematic" and "clinical." 

-- There are three broad hypotheses about the sources of [women's underrepresentation] . . . the first is what I call the high-powered job hypothesis [i.e. that women don't want high-powered jobs].   The second is what I would call different availability of aptitude at the high end, and the third is what I would call different  socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search.  And, in my own view, their importance probably ranks in exactly the order I just described. [emphasis mine] . . So my sense is that the unfortunate truth -- I would far prefer to believe something else, because it would be easier to address what is surely a serious social problem if something else were true - is that the combination of the high-powered job hypothesis and the differing variances [in aptitude] probably explains a fair amount of this problem. 

This guy is not just raising ideas for further study, but endorsing a point of view that women by inclination and natural aptitude are less suited than men for tenured science positions at Harvard.Summers then goes on to explain his "high powered job theory:"

. . . [T]he most prestigious activities in our society expect of people who are going to rise to leadership positions in their forties nearly total commitments to their work.  They expect a large number of hours in the office, they expect a flexibility of schedules to respond to contingency, they expect a continuity of effort through the life cycle, and they expect . . . that the mind is always working on the problems that are in the job, even when the job is not taking placeAnd it is a fact about our society that that is a level of commitment that a much higher fraction of married men have been historically prepared to make than of married women . . . so I think in terms of positive understanding, the first very important reality is just what I would call the, who WANTS to do the high-powered intense work? [emphasis mine].

How convenient.  The women just don't WANT these jobs.  Of course, even while endorsing this rather simplistic and overly convenient viewpoint, Summers also admits that he doesn't really know:

. . . [T]he work that Claudia Goldin and Larry Katz are doing will, I'm sure, over time, contribute greatly to our understanding of these issues and for all I know may prove my conjectures completely wrong. 

When confronted during the question and answer session with the fact that there are "very high powered women in science in top positions" in France, Summers says, "Good question.  Good question.  I don't know much about it."  He then hypothesizes that there simply isn't the same pressure to perform or work 80 hours a week in France.

Summers then moves on to the issue of why the disparities between men and women in high-powered positions is the greatest in science and engineering.  His answer is: biology.  But the thing is: No one KNOWS where nature ends and culture begins when it comes to math and science ability.  No one knows.  But does that stop the supposedly open-minded and objective Larry Summers?  Oh no, he does not hesitate to endorse the notion that women are genetically less likely to achieve in math and science at the highest levels.  He then discounts the effects of socialization on the most specious grounds imaginable.  First the kibbutz example:

I just returned from Israel, where we had the opportunity to visit a kibbutz and to spend some time talking about the history of the kibbutz movement, and it really is very striking to hear how the movement started with an absolute commitment, of a kind one doesn't encounter in other places, that everybody was going to do the same jobs.  Sometimes the women were going to fix the tractors, and the men were going to work in the nurseries, sometimes the men were going to fix the tractors and the women were going to work in the nurseries, and just under the pressure of what everyone wanted, in a hundred different kibbutzes, each one of which evolved, it all moved in the same direction [apparently towards men doing stereotypically male jobs and women doing stereotypically female jobs].

Right.  Because the differences the gender roles on the kibbutz must be genetic. I guess the notoriously low status suffered by women kibbutzniks is just natural. The socialization of the founders of the kibbutz had nothing to do with it.  The fact that the child care workers were all women from the get-go had nothing to do with it.  And, of course, there are so many opportunities for women to pursue high powered scientific research careers on the kibbutz, so this example is clearly applicable.  I'm being sarcastic obviously.  My point is that the conclusions Summers draws from his kibbutz example are a huge leap when we are supposed to be examining this issue "clinically."   

Moving on to the notorious "mommy truck" example:

So, I think, while I would prefer to believe otherwise [uh huh.  So why are you leaping to conclusions without evidence?], I guess my experience with my two and a half year old twin daughters who were not given dolls and who were given trucks, and found themselves saying to each other, look, daddy truck is carrying the baby truck, tells me something.  And I think it's just something that you probably have to recognize.

Wow.  I am pretty impressed that Larry Summers has raised his little girls in complete isolation from any societal influences.  I guess since his kids were raised in a lab, we must be able to conclude that their behavior is genetically programmed.  And, of course, since feminists deny any differences between the sexes, this example must defeat us.

OK, Ok, obviously this example is irrelevant, and insulting to boot.  First, his example proves exactly nothing.  Second, feminists don't deny biological differences between the sexes.  That's not the issue.  But with regard to achievement at the highest levels of math and science, which is ostensibly the subject of Summers's talk, we DON'T KNOW whether or how much such achievement is genetically determined by sex.  We DON'T KNOW. We have no idea. Yet Summers, who touts the notion of clinical objectivity, is ready to embrace the notion of genetic pre-determination by sex at the highest levels of scientific achievement.  Why shouldn't this clearly expressed prejudgment be troubling to the Harvard faculty?

Summers goes on to talk about how he does not believe that discrimination is a major factor, and gives some lip service to the need for further study. 

In the question and answer session, Summers again ADMITS that he is talking out of his ass.

Question:  And, you know, a lot of us would disagree with your hypotheses and your premises . . .

Summers:  Fair enough.

Question:  So it's not so clear.

Summers:  It's not clear at all. I think I said it wasn't clear.  I was giving you my best guess but I hope we could argue on the basis of as much evidence as we can marshall . . I don't presume to have proved any view that I expressed here, but if you think there is proof for an alternative theory, I'd want you to be hesitant about that.

OK, so why are you, as the head of a major major research and teaching university expressing a view that women are inherently inferior at scientific achievement at the highest levels without having the evidence to back it up?  And why shouldn't the faculty be upset about your admitted prejudice on this subject?

This isn't about censorship or squelching ideas that we find unpleasant.  This is about questioning the leadership of a man with the power to influence and determine who gets the plum tenure positions at THE premiere American university and who also admits that he believes, without the evidence to back it up, that women are inherently less able to rise to certain of those tenure positions.   

(Hat tip: Feministing.)


In most areas of life, I strive to be scrupulously gender-blind.  But I do discriminate in one area.  When my annual physical rolls around, I always request a woman doctor.  This seems like common sense to me.  Why should I tolerate a strange man poking around in my most intimate private areas when there are plenty of qualified women professionals with whom I would be more comfortable? Apparently, this is a decision to which male gynecologists do not take kindly, according to this post by Twisty Faster.  Twisty quotes from an OB/GYN listserv in which one doctor takes pleasure in tricking women into thinking they are to see a woman doctor until he walks into the room and it's "too late," and another doctor advocates not "giving in" to the patient's preference for a woman doctor. 

I am not one to rag on the entire profession of male gynecologists.  I know at least one (the father of a friend of mine) who entered the profession with a strong feminist outlook and a dedication to women's health at a time when women themselves didn't usually become doctors.  But that doesn't change fact that I have a perfect right to choose who is going to see me naked and who is not.  And I don't think that it is unreasonable to decide that I'd rather not have random members of the opposite sex seeing me naked. 

My one experience with a male doctor (a GP, not a gynecologist) confirmed my prejudice. One year I was running a bit late on a scheduling my annual physical.  My former doctor had moved away, and I couldn't seem to get a timely appointment anywhere.  I said to myself, "Happy, you need to get over your excessive modesty.  The doctor will just look at you in a clinical way.  It's not that big a deal.  You're a grown woman and you have nothing to be embarrassed about."

So I scheduled an appointment with the male doctor. When I was taken into the examination room, the nurse instructed me to take off my clothes and put on  a flimsy hospital gown.  I did so and was sitting on the examining table with my bare legs dangling off the side and just a flimsy piece of paper covering the rest of me when the GP knocked and walked.  He immediately recoiled in horror and yelled, "OH MY GOD! YOU'RE NOT DRESSED!"  Having steeled myself to be naked with this guy, I was able to respond calmly, "Well, no, I'm not. The nurse told me to put on this hospital gown." The doctor apologized profusely, explaining that he would have preferred to meet with me first while I was still dressed.  I reassured him that I was not embarrassed and that it didn't bother me a bit to meet him for the first time while wearing the hospital gown.   The doctor was blushing profusely and insisted that he was embarrassed even if I wasn't. 

He was very nice, but his attitude had the effect of making me embarrassed even when I had steeled myself not to be embarrassed.  This was about five years ago, and I have never made an appointment to have a physical of that nature that with a male doctor again.



I find the topic of "wifely submission" endlessly fascinating.  By "wifely submission," I mean the frequent (although not universal) belief by conservative Christians that a wife has a duty to "submit" to her husband.  The Biblical rationale for this and how this plays out in real life is a complicated topic that I don't have time to go into today, although I hope to write about it in the future.  But in light of some recent discussions at Crystal's site on Biblical Womanhood (link to the precise thread below), I would like to take a moment to  bemoan the deleterious effects of this concept of submission upon the self-image of women who practice it.   

First, why do I this so fascinating? After all, I am a non-Christian and this belief system has no direct effect on me.  In some ways, I think perhaps it is none of my business. But my feminism is very much motivated and informed by the fact that entire cultures, religions, and belief systems are still structured around the subjection of women.  Although I feel that I personally enjoy the same degree of freedom and equality as the men in my life, I simply can't take the feminist blessings I enjoy for granted when there are so many people, churches, and cultures throughout the world and in my own country who passionately believe that women are "different": and that we should play a different and undoubtedly subservient role.  I certainly don't believe it is my place to prevent people from living according to such beliefs if they choose, but I do think I have a right to criticize those beliefs, particularly since there are some folks out there who would, if they could, restructure society to impose those beliefs on all women.

For now I wanted to direct your attention to the fascinating thread  at Crystal's site -- the comments in particular are illuminating.  I don't doubt for a moment the sincerity of the women who comment.  I am familiar with some of the commenters and I know that many of them are bright, strong, feisty women with strong convictions.  And that is exactly why it is so heartbreaking to me for me to read comments in which they seem to put themselves down.  They characterize themselves as needing or wanting their husbands' leadership and protection not only from physical danger but from their own foolishness, characterized by excessive "out of control" emotionalism and gullibility. Sure, they claim that the requirement of submission does not connote women's inferiority.  But I don't see how one can view a person as less capable of making important decisions about her own life than another person as anything other than "inferior."  That is what pains me about this Christian concept of wifely submission. It's one thing to say the rules are that your husband is the final authority on important decisions because that's how God set it up.  But ten times more awful is teaching women that not only must they submit to this external authority over their lives but that they must also believe themselves to be inferior, child-like beings who are more gullible, more emotional, and less able to understand spiritual and other important matters than men.  I don't have a problem with the concept of "submission" in general -- to lawful authority, to God, to the moral commandments -- but, notwithstanding my respect for my conservative Christian cyberfriends, I am incredibly saddened and depressed by an ideology that aims to teach half of the human race to embrace a distorted and shameful self-image. 


In response to this post on Gender Apartheid in Saudi Arabia, Antigone writes:

I am a junior [in college], and I read your post on Gender Segregation in Saudi Arabia.  I agree that this is a problem, and that it should be addressed and protested.  Your post has inspired me to action: I want to organize a demonstration here at my campus.
The only thing is, I have absolutely no idea how to do this.  I've never done a demonstration before, and there is no women's organization here at all.
I was wondering, is there any advice you could give me?  For instance, what should I be agitating for?  Which politicians should I be contacting?  What organizations should I be contacting, and/or raising money for?  Can I, as an intrested third party, just raise the money to give to, say, Amenesty International, or do I need a permit or something?
If you don't know these things, or don't have time to look for them (which I would easily understand) do you know where I can go to find this information?  Or anyone who would know this who I could contact.  Any help you could give me would be appreciated.

I think Antigone is on the right track.  I don't think there is any point in organizing a demonstration unless one has educated oneself and has a clear sense of one's objectives. 

But I have to admit that I am completely clueless.  All I do is sit in my comfy chair and toss out ideas on my blog.  I have never been an activist at all, on campus or otherwise.  So I turn the question over to you, all of you readers.  I bet some of you are experienced activists.  Can you provide some advice?  Also, are there any resources or books available with tips for effective campus activism?

Also with regard to Saudi Arabia in particular-- does anyone know about particular organizations or activism that Antigone can hook up with or try to help?

UPDATE:  As I consider this, I am reminded by some of the comments to my original post regarding the fact that people are sometimes hesitant to address gender apartheid because it is wrapped up with touchy issues of religion.  So I think that it is important to make it clear that any action you take is a protest against politically-enforced gender apartheid, not a protest against Islam itself.  I would read up on the differences between Islam in general and Wahabbism, which is the particular state-sanctioned, fundamentalist school of Islam from which Saudi Arabia derives its gender laws.  You may want to reach out to any Islamic groups on campus who may (or may not) be willing to help you get your message across in a way that is respectful of Islam while also protesting governmental imposition of this particular school of Islam on women in Saudi Arabia.   


Body image has been a dominant topic recently on at least two blogs I love.  First, there was The Big Fat Carnival at Alas, A Blog.  And now, at Mind the Gap!, there is a series of posts to mark "Body Image Week."  So I guess it is high time for me to talk about body image and eating disorders-- although I have been avoiding it. I have always felt ambivalent about identifying body image as a feminist issue, partly because there is often too much emphasis on this issue at the expense of other equally important issues, and because it sometimes sounds frivolous when there are people starving in the world.  But there is no denying that distorted body image causes intense and debilitating personal suffering among huge swathes of our female population (as well as a growing number of male sufferers).  I know because I myself spent years in the grip of that suffering. 

Like so many women of my demographic, perhaps even the majority of women in my demographic, I am certainly familiar with the pain and self-torment of a distorted body image and a self-loathing preoccupation with my food intake and body weight.  I was never diagnosed with an eating disorder nor have I engaged in any bulimic behaviors or any behaviors that jeopardized my physical health.  But I suffered terribly. 

Despite my personal experiences, body image and eating disorders have never resonated with me as feminist issues.  These problems seemed to me very personal.  I also did not link my problems primarily to the portrayal of women in fashion magazines or Hollywood movies, although  I think Hollywood may have reinforced my obsession with a thin physique.  To me, control of my weight and my diet was an extreme form of trying to achieve self-mastery and self-control during adolescence.  In retrospect, however, I recognize that my "issues" manifested themselves in the manner they did because of societal standards that tend to emphasize a woman's looks more than other things she may have to contribute -- and of course, those standards are a feminist issue. 

Like so many sufferers of anorexia and bulimia, I come from a very perfectionist family.  My parents, despite all their good qualities, are  very judgmental towards others who fail to meet their standards of  "being together."  It sounds terribly cold and awful, but my parents definitely tend to think less of people who have messy houses, or wear  bad clothes, or use bad grammar, or have any apparent "dysfunction," such as divorce, addiction, or seeing a therapist.  (I should note that my mother is a very kind person but somehow this judgmental attitude exists side by side with her compassion. I know I am not explaining it well, but just trust me on this.) 

Part of our family's perfectionism manifested itself in my mother's physique.  My mother always seemed to be the only mother who wasn't overweight, and in fact, she was and is very slender.  She is also very fashionable.  So I grew up constantly hearing effusive praise, mainly from other women but sometimes from men as well, regarding my mother's appearance and figure.  I don't think my mother ever had unhealthy habits, but she definitely watched what she ate and she was always very active, taking up long distance running with great success during the late '70s.  My father tended to put on weight, which he would joke about, but somehow I got the message that it was worse for a woman to be fat than for a man. 

I was always thin child, but I was significantly bigger than my best friend in grade school who was just a teeny little mite.  It didn't bother me when I was 7, 8, 9, 10 years old.  It was only when I was about twelve years old that I became self-conscious about my weight, and excessively so.  It was around that time that I started to garner a lot of compliments about my appearance, and of course, puberty was rearing its ugly head.  My self-tormenting preoccupation with weight was at its worst probably between the ages of twelve and sixteen, peaking at around fourteen.  I continued to have bouts of misery on this issue all the way through college, but the worst was over by the time I ended high school.  I am not sure that I have a lot of insight as to what led me to the sorry state I was in during the worst years.  Thinking about it during my commute this morning, I would probably list the following as the primary factors:

-- Perfectionism and a dreadful fear, mingled with guilt and shame, at being less than perfect. 

-- A sense of being valued primarily for external and visible accomplishments rather than inherent worth.

-- An overly high premium placed on self-discipline and self-control.

-- A sense that my value was transient and could be lost at any moment.  For example, I was elated when the school doctor informed me that I was 20 pounds lighter than the next lightest person in my 8th grade class -- but then I immediately started worrying that I might have gained weight since getting weighed at school and that the doctor's "compliment" might not apply any longer.

These are all personal and family issues that I think would have caused me unhappiness regardless of my sex.  I think, however, that these issues manifested themselves in relation to food and eating because physical beauty is considered far more crucial for women than men.  So I would also identify the following reinforcing factors for my quasi-eating disorder:

-- Too much emphasis by others on my mother's appearance and my appearance, leading me to feel that much of my status in the eyes of others was based on slenderness and looks.  Again, I seemed to equate good looks with something a person could and should achieve by self-discipline.

-- The fact that every heroine on television or in the movies seemed to be rail thin. Again, for me, it wasn't so much about sex appeal, as the notion of equating self-discipline with slenderness.      

-- Advertisements and articles in women's magazines that imply that perfection is achievable if you work hard enough, follow the right tips, or buy the right products. 

Other factors that didn't help were:

-- A lack of understanding of puberty.  I knew about menstruation and breast development (neither of which hit me until I was almost fifteen), but I didn't understand that becoming larger and softer and curvier throughout one's body were also normal parts of puberty.  I expected to stay stick-thin into adulthood, except with breasts, so I interpreted hip development and other changes to my body as "getting fat."

-- A complete lack of understanding of proper nutrition.  I don't think I really understood, at least in middle school, that a person actually does need to eat every day to be healthy.  At twelve, I also felt guilty for eating ice cubes because I didn't undertand that water has no calories.  I actually credit the nutrition portion of my high school biology class with helping me to develop healthier and happier attitudes. 

I am happy to report that I don't struggle too much with body image anymore, and haven't since my mid-twenties.  I think a desire to be healthy, a feminist mindset, and a better understanding of myself and my body have all helped me to overcome my previous negativity.  I still care about my weight but not excessively so.  In terms of my body, I value my health first, then my personal enjoyment of my body, and then aesthetics.  I would still like to look attractive, but (a) I don't define "looking attractive" as wearing a "size zero" and (b) I no longer want to look attractive at the expense of my health or my happiness.  I monitor my eating habits with Weight Watchers Online program, which I love. Weight Watchers allows you to eat whatever you want in moderation and it provides tools for assessing how much you can eat.  When you are on the program, you find yourself gravitating towards -- and enjoying -- fruits, vegetables, and healthier foods because you are rewarded for that by being able to eat more, and then along the way, you just start to like those foods.  In other words, the program provides knowledge and motivational tools for eating in a healthy but enjoyable way. 

It has taken a lot of suffering and work over the course of many years to develop some perspective, and I occasionally still have days when I judge myself harshly, but on the whole, it is not an issue for me anymore. 

Is this a feminist post or a personal post?  I guess I would say it's both.  For me, my lengthy bout with food and weight related unhappiness was a result of problems that I think I would have experienced regardless of whether I were a man or a woman.  But it is no coincidence that women tend to suffer eating disorders at a far higher rate than men-- and, in my experience, many (if not most) young women in my demographic, suffer unhealthy and debilitating attitudes about food and body even if they aren't actually suffering a diagnosable disorder.  It's a complicated topic but I have to believe that the undue emphasis on women's appearance in our society has to be a substantial contributing factor. 


The following is from an email I received from a young man in response to my series of posts on Women in Combat:

I recently read a historical article discussing the "Titanic" and men who survived versus women who survived.  This article mentioned that men who survived were often shamed for life for not dying.  I am wondering what is your take on the concept of "women and children first" is?  My thoughts are the following:

1. Why do I simply because of my gender have a duty to die so that women and children may live? In my opinion, that sounds as philosophically sane as blacks must pick cotton so whites may enjoy life.

2. Why does every woman and every child simply by age or gender have more of an inherent right to life than me?  In my opinion, all people have an equal right to life.  Additionally, since I have very poor athletic skills, I might need more help in a rescue situation than some basketball playing teenagers or some very athletic women. 

My take on the Titanic?  I very much approve the notion that the stronger should allow the weaker to go first, and I applaud the bravery of those men on the Titanic who sacrificed themselves for others.  If these men had not been willing to die, we might have had the morally revolting spectacle of the largest, strongest people trying to save themselves by knocking aside the small and the weak.   

The problem, of course, is to determine who is strong and who is weak.  Traditionally, it was assumed that "women" were automatically among the weak who had to be protected.  This assumption, however, is problematic for two reasons: (1) women are not necessarily "the weak" and (2) "women and children first" is sometimes used to justify women's subordinate status in society. 

Sex as a proxy for determining who is strong and who is weak is woefully inadequate.  I may be physically weaker in many respects than most men my age, but I am certainly stronger than an elderly man or a man with a disability.  (And, if it's an issue of who can run the fastest for a long distance, I'd challenge most men my age to a road race, thank you very much.)  Also, depending on the circumstances, I may even be stronger than the most strapping young man-- if I have a gun for example, or if I have a boat and the young man is drowning, as in the story I told here. (Of course, for the writer of the email, I am not sure that merely having poor athletic skills is sufficient to qualify you as "weak"! Sorry!)

Everyone, male or female, should be taught the virtues of self-sacrifice in emergency situations.  I have every intention in any emergency situation to see to the safety of my husband (who has a severe disability) before I see to my own safety.  As a fit and childless woman in my prime, I feel that I would have had a moral duty to ensure the safety of the elderly, the sick, the disabled, and the very young before my own safety on the Titanic.  Although I have never been in a situation calling for great physical courage, I believe that by imagining such situations and deciding now what I would do, I will be able to act appropriately if such a situation were ever to arise. 

Of course, one advantage of the "women and children" first formulation is that it is an easy proxy for determining in an orderly way who should be saved first and who should stay behind.  Without that formulation, it would become easy for the cowardly to rationalize pushing aside the little old lady.  Another issue is whether children who are rescued should be accompanied by a parent and, if so, which parent.  Of course, I think that such situations, in which only some people can be saved while others must die, are very rare.  The men of the Titanic would not have had to sacrifice themselves if there had been enough lifeboats. 

The disadvantage of the "women and children first" formulation is that it is often bandied about to justify the subordination of women.  I have heard people argue that "women and children first" is a perk women will have to give up if we want equality.  It is noteworthy that Doug Phillips, the head of a Christian Reconstructionist organization known as Vision Forum Ministries, which advocates restructuring society as a "Biblical Patriarchy," has also founded a society known as the Christian Boys' and Men's Titanic Society.  In the context of the ideology of "Biblical Patriarchy," it appears that this group is meant to justify and to glorify the leadership role the male half of our species would enjoy in his ideal society.  It makes me think of how my father cooked dinner a quarter of a century ago when my mother was bedridden after surgery and even now he keeps saying, "See, I do a lot for this family . . . remember that time I cooked dinner?"  The thing is that situations like the Titanic don't crop up in the ordinary course of things and therefore simply can't be used to justify the unequal status of half of the human race. 

Sometimes men are in a better position, by virtue of sheer upper body strength, to rescue people from burning buildings and such, but there are plenty of heroic women, too -- women in combat, women police officers, ordinary women who act with extraordinary bravery when the situation calls for it. I simply don't see "women and children first" as a formulation that works anymore.  On the other hand, we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater: so for now, I am hoping that the ideal of the strong protecting the weak will work in whatever situations I and my fellow human beings find ourselves in. 

(NOTE:  One problem that also arises when one considers the notion of chivalry is that often chivalry was applied to the benefit of upper class women but not at all to the peasantry.  I am not an expert on the Titanic disaster and I do not know how the poorer women and children were treated on the Titanic.  For the purposes of this post, I have assumed that poor women and children were saved as well.) 

UPDATED:  I want to direct readers to the fantastic comments below.  Dave, our naval expert, from the The Galloping Beaver explains more about the current protocol for evacuating ships.  Ginmar and Dave also point out that being saved during an isolated emergency situation would not make up for the fact that, at the time of the Titanic disaster, women did not have the vote and were treated as second class citizens in every way. 


Laura at I'm Not a Feminist, But . . . has written a sensitive and thoughtful post about the common expectation in our society that women not walk about after dark without a man. She professes extreme irritation at this state of affairs, and I can definitely relate.    The cultural assumptions regarding women's need for male protection often do a disservice to both women and men.  As Laura points out:

(a) Women’s freedom of movement is hampered in a way that men’s freedom of movement is not.

(b) The notion that women are most at risk of rape on the street after dark is statistically incorrect.  The vast majority of sexual assaults and rapes take place off the streets and are committed not by strangers, but by acquaintances, friends, and relatives. 

(c) The notion that men are somehow invincible is false as well, yet much more of a fuss is made of women’s safety-- to the detriment of both men and women.  (This point was actually raised, unwittingly perhaps, by Richard in the comments thread of Laura’s post.)

(d) The notion that women need a man for protection often translates into the man “taking charge” of the woman’s movements or decisions.  Laura described how a well-meaning male friend recently expressed guilt for “letting” Laura walk home alone.  All too often, women’s decisions about their own safety are not respected.  Laura also criticizes the flip side of this -- the injustice to the man of having to feel that he is still responsible for a woman’s safety even when she has turned down his help. 

Here are some moments of irritation and anger from my own memory bank that illustrate some of the points made in Laura's post:

-- There was the time in boarding school when I decided to run the half mile from the main part of campus to my dorm, which was located in an isolated, wooded area next to a boy’s dorm.  I was a runner and it was a beautiful spring night and it felt good after a long day to just pump my arms and my legs and fly across the athletic fields.  The joy I felt was not to last for long, however.  A boy from the neighboring dorm caught up with me, grabbed me from behind, scaring me half to death.  “I’m a-gonna rape you,” he joked before “reassuring” me that he would walk me back.  We walked to the dorm together, while he made fun of me because he assumed I was running out of fear.  It pretty much wrecked my night.

-- Still in boarding school, I was once at the library with a group of friends, and a boy offered to walk me back to my dorm.  I turned him down, primarily because he really “liked” me and I didn’t want to “lead him on.”  He kept insisting and I kept fobbing him off.  Then he got pissy and said, “Well, don’t blame me if you get raped.”  Nice.  Thanks, guy, for using the prospect of rape to try to force me to spend time with you when I don’t want to.

-- As a young college student hanging out in New York City, my parents were fine with me having a social life all over the city until all hours but they asked that I always take a cab after nine o’clock at night unless I were with a man.  I and most of my women friends adhered to similar safety precautions.  My boyfriend, on the other hand, blithely wandered about the city by himself all the time -- even though he got mugged THREE times.  I mean held up at gunpoint or knifepoint and MUGGED. But, except for me, no one ever said to him, “You really need to change your habits.  You can’t be walking around by yourself at night.”  And he continued to think somehow that he didn’t have to  be careful because he was a young, strong MAN.  In fact, the only time I ever came close to being mugged, was when I was with this boyfriend.  He wanted to take a shortcut through the park and I thought it looked too deserted.  He insisted it would be fine because he was there with me.  Predictably enough, a woman and a man caught up with us and were actually discussing whether they should “take [us] down.”  They abandoned the plan, I think because I started laughing (out of nervousness).  It really annoyed me that I had put myself in danger by buying into the assumption that being with a man was the be-all and end-all to protecting myself. 

-- Once I attended a baseball game with the same boyfriend at Yankee Stadium.  Yankee Stadium is located in a somewhat sketchy section of the Bronx.  Unless there is a game, which draws crowds of people to the area, it is not a safe place to go (or at least it wasn’t back in my day).  So, after the game, Boyfriend and I went with the crowd from Yankee Stadium to the subway trains that would take much of the crowd back to Manhattan.  As we made our way through the crowd with me walking in front of my Boyfriend, Boyfriend kept trying to propel me through the crowd by my elbow or by shoving me.  I kept yanking my arm away from him and he kept grabbing me and pushing me.  I kept telling him to let go of me, yet he ignored my wishes.  Let me tell you, I was pissed. Bad pissed.  It was one of the very few times in my life that I have been really furious with someone and when we got back to his apartment, we had a knock-down drag-out fight.  I told him, “Don’t you EVER do that again.”  His response was that he was in charge of making sure I made it home safely because it was a sketchy area and I could somehow (?) get swept away from the crowd.  He felt that his obligation to protect me should override my clearly stated wishes that I did not want to be grabbed, propelled, or shoved.  Apparently, when a woman is perceived to be in danger, her own decision-making capacity is not to be considered worthy. 

-- In this vein, well-meaning men all too frequently speak in terms of whether they will “let” the women in their lives do something they believe is dangerous.  Laura’s friend felt guilty that he had “let” her walk home alone.  I had a male colleague who told me he would not “let” his wife use a chainsaw.  Recently at Pandagon, Amanda discussed a Dear Abby letter regarding a man who wanted his girlfriend to pick him up at night at the airport as a romantic gesture. The letter writer said, “No one in his right mind would permit . . . his girlfriend to travel alone by car, cab, bus or subway during the hours of darkness as a ‘romantic gesture.’ It could result in her suffering severe mental or physical injury as a result of a car-jacking, assault, rape or kidnapping.” (Emphasis added). Gee, I guess I shouldn’t have permitted my ex-boyfriend to walk around at night since he kept getting mugged -- except as a woman, I have neither the right nor the ability to control a man's movements. 

-- At my last firm, there were a couple of female associates (including me) and a night secretary who used to work each night until about 7:30 or 8:00.  One night a slightly more senior male associate (who was something of a pompous windbag) stayed late and noticed the night secretary leave at her appointed time of 7:30 while we female associates stayed at our desks a while longer.  The senior male associate professed shock and outrage that we had not offered to walk the night secretary to her car and asked that in future we travel as a group to our cars.  So the next night, I said to the night secretary, “The other female associate and I can walk you to your car.”  The night secretary laughed at me and said, “I’ve lived in this town all my life and I don’t think it’s dangerous for me to walk a block to my car at 7:30.”  I personally agreed with her and you would think that that would be that.  But oh no, senior male associate made a big deal to the managing partner about the fact that the women were not traveling in packs to their cars at the ostensibly late hour of 7:30.  Again, apparently, we are not seen to have the capacity to make our own decisions about our own safety. 

--  A couple of years ago, a woman was leaving a party when two men at the party followed her out, grabbed her and raped her.  The investigating police officer made a statement to the press advising single women not to go to parties at night unless they know everyone there!

Obviously, street violence is a huge problem with major consequences, and certainly there is no denying that women are generally seen as easier or more desirable targets.  But the solution should not be to ignore or override a woman’s own decisions regarding what precautions she will take.  The solution should not be to make ridiculous pronouncements that women should never go to parties or never travel after dark.  The solution should not be to assume that having a man around is an absolute protection.  The solution should not be to lead men to believe that somehow they are not at risk themselves of violent street crime. 


Sigh.  I am barely keeping my head above water this week.  So I don't know if that means that posting will be sparse or if that means posting will be heavy because I will need a stress reliever.  I am going to be off to client meetings out of the office most of today,  but I thought I would share the following miscellaneous:

-- My mother who recently blacked out and fell during a dizzy spell has undergone a number of medical tests.  Apparently there is nothing wrong with her.  She seems as perky as ever and still runs a very hard hour every day on her treadmill.

-- She and I are possibly planning a vacation in mid-April to visit my grandmother in L.A.  The only problem is that I have a trial scheduled at the beginning of May so I don't know if that's going to be a good time to take a week off.

-- My corgi turned five yesterday.  We showered him with treats and chewy toys. 

-- This weekend, my husband and I watched "Supersize Me," the documentary about America's obesity epidemic.  I was shocked by the segment about certain public schools that provide tons of unhealthful fast foods and soda to kids in the cafeteria.  My husband, who eats a lot of fast food and pizza, is going on a major diet involving lots of vegetables and pinto beans.  I'm thrilled because I have had visions of being widowed at age 45 due to his unhealthful habits and I am desperate to make sure that doesn't happen.

--   Interviewing witnesses is my favorite aspect of my job.  Tracking down witnesses I can't find when I really need to find them is my least favorite aspect of my job. 

--  As I was driving in to work today, I was considering whether I should confess my love of fashion magazines on this blog.  I don't have time to write a full post about it, but I love fashion.  I am not much of a fashionista myself because I hate shopping, but I love to "ooh and ahh" over beautiful clothes.  When I travel, I have been known to buy a copy of "Vogue" or "Harper's Bazaar" and to drink in every single photograph page by page during the trip.  I think the way fashion models are treated in the fashion industry is problematic, but I don't think that I have a problem with the fashion industry's influence on western culture, to the extent it does have an influence. I also appreciate the fact that there has been a resurgence of tasteful dressing in Hollywood over the past ten years.  I especially enjoy seeing incredibly talented, strong, vivacious, non-anorexic women sporting fantastic dresses that express their personalities.  Favorites of mine among well-dressed celebrities include Cate Blanchett and Catherine Zeta-Jones. 

--  I have this huge yearning to travel right now.  It really hits me first thing in the morning when I wake up.  Right now I am fantasizing about Greece.  I would also love to take a driving trip through the Deep South-- starting in Virginia and going through the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  It's a part of the United States that strikes me as incredibly exotic but which I have seen very little of.   

-- My husband and I watched "Wife Swap" last night.  What a revolting show.

-- I would like to give up Diet Coke, but I don't know how to kick the habit. 


I have been thinking and talking about the problem of career vs. motherhood in our society and career vs. the socialization of girls since I was just a tiny tot.  But one thing that I find incredibly difficult about this topic is that people are bound to get defensive about their personal choices.  I have never personally been too successful at dealing with this issue when I talk to others. And then I find myself watching my words and censoring my opinions because I am so, so worried about offending women who have made different life choices than I have.  Ack.

Feminists critique the expectation that it should always be the woman who bears the brunt of the child rearing duties-- but then the women who have made career sacrifices in order to stay home pipe up and say, “But I am glad that this is how I am spending my life.”  Feminists want to get to the root of why fewer women than men tend to aspire to certain types of positions, like high-level political positions, or law firm partnerships, or other such “professionally powerful positions.”  But then other women say, “Well, I don’t want to be a senator or a law firm partner, but my aspirations are valid, too.”  And then there are other woman who say, “Hey, I am just struggling each day to put food on the table.  What are you doing for me?” 

I find this incredibly frustrating because it hampers the examination of societal forces that may hold our daughters back from exercising their natural talents to the fullest extent possible in whatever sphere suits them.  We’re not saying that no woman should ever make a career sacrifice for the sake of her children.  We’re not saying that every woman is duty bound to be on the fast track to conventional prestige.  We’re not saying that we should ignore inequities faced by women who are not worrying about getting a place in the boardroom because they are struggling just to survive.  But I think it’s worth questioning the assumptions that we and our culture make about our role in every facet of society.  We should question why it is still generally assumed that career vs. parenting is primarily a “women’s issue.” We should question why women law students are more likely than men to say they don’t want “powerful” positions.  We should examine the forces that keep fewer women than men from running for the Senate or becoming CEO or getting a research fellowship in physics at a top-flight university. 

My mother is my role model in this regard.  Her life was a conventional female life for her generation.  She was a secretary until she got married, at which time it was simply expected that she quit her job. She truly relished being a homemaker and she was an incredibly attentive mother.  But my mother was extremely clear-eyed about the forces that led her to this role.  She was very critical of her upbringing and the socialization and expectations that went along with that.  Even though my mother was happy to be a stay-at-home-mother, she always recognized the injustice of forcing women into one cookie-cutter role and the injustice of the fact that she herself never had much of an opportunity to question whether that role was right for her.  She was always willing  to think about and critique the limitations placed on women’s roles in society and the extent to which her own life was shaped by those limitations. 

That’s what we feminists are trying to do. We are certainly not trying to devalue the choices you have made.  We are certainly not here to tell every woman that she has to pursue a particular “feminist appropriate lifestyle.”  You are not a bad feminist if you are staying home with your children.  You are not a bad feminist if you have jumped off the career fast track.  Indeed, if we can create a society in which the expectations of parenting and of power fall equally on men and women, then we can be sure that those of us who choose full-time parenting or who choose full-time career or who choose something else altogether have done so in a truly voluntary way, free from the societal norms that tend to force certain roles on one gender or another. 

UPDATE:  This post at Feministe on Betty Friedan touches a bit on what I am saying, especially this bit:

In her criticisms, [Friedan] is often perceived to have attacked the housewife herself — anti-feminists will toss out Friedan quotes about housework being suited for the simple-minded and boring as “proof” that Friedan believes stay-at-home moms to be stupid. But I’m not sure that was her point. Housework is boring and repetitive. It isn’t stimulating. Most people do not enjoy it. But it still has to get done. Recognizing that it sucks, and that it’s pretty unfair to hold up members of a particular gender as failures if they don’t enjoy it, isn’t the same thing as disparaging the people who, out of necessity, do it. Criticizing the system is not the same as criticizing the individuals who do their best to operate within that system.

I also don’t buy the idea that Friedan’s work and the feminist movement were bad for stay-at-home women, or that they constructed the stay-at-home woman as a negative thing. If anything, the fact that staying at home is now much more a choice than it was 50 years ago confers a good deal of value onto it — women who are staying home are doing it because they want to, not because they’re mandated to do so. They see it as a viable lifestyle choice, and one that they want for themselves. That breeds an understanding of staying home as one in a series of valid life choices, as opposed to something that, by virtue of having a vagina, some second-class citizens are simply expected to do. Of course, how much of this “choice” is actually made freely is debatable, but it’s certainly much more of a choice, for many more women, than it was before.


Heroines are dropping like flies.  It has indeed been a black week.

Wendy Wasserstein died on Monday January 30 of lymphoma at the age of 55.  Her plays, including The Heidi Chronicles, The Sisters Rosensweig and Uncommon Women and Others "chronicled the feminist struggles and successes of the baby-boomer generation."  As a loyal Mount Holyoke College alumna, I should note that Wasserstein graduated from Mount Holyoke in 1971.  The ironic title of her play, Uncommon Women and Others, is taken from a speech by a past Mount Holyoke president who claimed that it was a college of "uncommon women."

Coretta Scott King died on Tuesday January 31 at the age of 78.  She worked side-by-side with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the most contentious and difficult period of the Civil Rights Movement.  She carried on his legacy after he died, becoming a civil rights leader in her own right.   In recent years, King also declared gay marriage to be an important civil rights issue, a position I understand to be controversial among black civil rights leaders. 

Betty Friedan died yesterday, Friday February 4, at the age of 85.  She was one of the founding mothers of the modern feminist movement and author of The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963.  "A woman has got to be able to say, and not feel guilty, `Who am I, and what do I want out of life?' She mustn't feel selfish and neurotic if she wants goals of her own, outside of husband and children," Friedan said.  It's amazing how this simple statement still remains controversial!  She also said, "For a great many women, choosing motherhood makes motherhood itself a liberating choice." (emphasis added).


It never fails to amaze me how often I hear the argument that women who pursue careers are blindly materialistic.  So often in the right wing media (Focus on the Family's radio broadcast, for example), the popular media, and in conversations with others, I hear people say that families should cut back on their lavish lifestyle so that the woman can stay home with the children.  You don't need a fancy new lexus, they say, when you can drive a plain old used car.  You don't need a snazzy vacation when you have each other.  You can live on only one salary. 

The reason this strikes me as so odd is that I have never met anyone who has given me the impression that they are working so that they can fund a lavish lifestyle.  I imagine such people exist, perhaps more so in major metropolitan areas like New York City, but this scenario doesn't seem to fit the people I know.  The two-income families I know fit into two categories-- either they are families which really, truly need both incomes in order to stay afloat or they are families in which both parents are passionately committed to their careers. 

In my case, we don't need two salaries.  We could easily live on either my salary or my husband's, and I don't think that fact would change even if we had a child.  We don't live a lavish lifestyle, nor do we particularly aspire to one. We have only taken three trips in eight years of marriage -- a week in Quebec City and Montreal, four days in New York City, and four days in New Orleans, the latter only because my husband attended a conference there and the trip was largely funded by his employer.  We only finally bought real estate recently, in our mid-thirties.  I am perfectly content with my Nissan Sentra and have no desire to upgrade, even though I have to roll the windows up and down manually.  My major material goals are to build a house on the land we bought and buy a kayak some day.  If I had wanted to get rich, I would never in a million years have gone to law school.  I would have gone to business school or pursued a career on Wall Street.

So have I been somehow "selfish" in choosing to spend the last eight years of my life working sixty to eighty hours a week in an all-consuming career that involves sometimes high stakes, high risks, and a lot of fretting and anxiety?  I certainly don't do it for my health and I certainly wouldn't put myself through what I put myself through just so I could have a little more money in my bank account than I might otherwise.   

No, it's because I believe very strongly in the concept of "vocation."  The word vocation comes from the Latin word "vocare" -- "to call."  A vocation is literally a calling from God.  Now I don't necessarily believe in God, but I do believe we each have a unique set of talents and strengths that can be harnessed to fill a particular niche in society and that most people desire to use their unique gifts in the manner to which they are best suited in order to provide a benefit.  People naturally want to work and they want to be useful.   I don't doubt that for some people that calling is full-time parenting,   but for others, like me, that calling may have nothing to do with parenting.  You can have a calling to be a trial lawyer, a firefighter, an artist, a journalist, a minister, an activist,  a police officer, a builder, a missionary, a person involved in charities or any one of a number of things. 

Often people with a calling do not feel that they have a choice.  One often hears artists talking in terms of feeling compelled to paint or dance or write. It's part of their make-up.  Being a lawyer is part of my make-up.  It's part of my very identity and who I am.  I can sort of (but not really) imagine doing other things, but law is the only career that perfectly suits my particular blend of talents and interests.  I would never dream of thinking that law is a superior calling to any other, but it is a calling that I am proud of and that I think is right for me.  I think this is the area where I can best harness my energy and talents in order to make some sort of contribution to my community.

So it really chaps my hide when I hear my choice to pursue a particular profession (that I am good at and that takes a tremendous amount of work) kind of belittled as something people would only do in order to keep up with Joneses or to be able to afford a fancy car.  And it chaps my hide even more when it is implied that somehow women don't have these sorts of vocations or that women's callings in life can easily be set aside for the convenience of husbands and children.  Uggghhh. End rant. 

(NOTE: I must give credit to Twisty for the expression du jour "to chap one's hide.")


Feminist Law Professors provides an excerpt of some recent remarks by Harvard Law Dean Elena Kagan.  This paragraph in particular stood out for me:

The Center for Work-Life Policy study found that only 20% of highly qualified female lawyers singled out “a powerful position” as a very important career goal. Now to me this finding raises a red flag. Do women care so little about having an impact? About finding ways to bring their considerable talents to bear on the world’s problems? I just don’t believe it. I think women express themselves in this way only because in our society the concept of power unfortunately has become disconnected from the goal of improving our society.

Kagan validates my sadness that women too infrequently seem to value powerful professional positions.  People often respond as though I am somehow a shallow or terrible person for opining that power is something worth having.  And Kagan hits the nail on the head.  To me, power is something one should have not only for one's personal gain and satisfaction but because power is a major avenue for making contributions to our society.  There is something wrong with the legal profession if the only value to be seen in a law firm partnership is the ability to afford a fancy car.  There is something wrong with our society as a whole if power is understood only as an end in itself. And certainly while power is defined as something that only inures to the greater glory of the powerful, women, with our cultural imperative to be "helping," "serving" and "self-sacrificing" will tend not to fight for power.   


A couple of years ago, my husband brought home an old bar association face book from 1978.  It featured photographs of all the attorneys in my state for that year.  As we flipped through, chuckling at the younger visages of many attorneys we know, my husband professed shock that virtually all the attorneys in our state that year were men, except for a very small handful of women.

I was shocked that he was shocked.  After all, he was eleven years old in 1978 so he should remember what it was like.  I was only 7 back then but I sure remember it. The near-total male domination of the public realm of our society back then was an awful black cloud over my childhood. 

As an only child of ambitious parents, I’d been brought up to aspire to great things.  My ambitions at various points included being a spy, a teacher, a trial lawyer, a research scientist, a writer, a detective, and President of the United States of America.  But I worried constantly, from very earliest childhood, whether my society or my circumstances would let me do what I wanted to do. 

Because the reality around me did not match up with the goals my parents encouraged.  All the women I knew were housewives.  Other than my great aunt, all the professionals I knew were men (at least until the early ‘80s).  There were no women professionals in my father’s organization.  We collectively referred to my father’s colleagues’ wives as “the wives.”  The wives cooked and cleaned during any social gatherings while the men lolled about and discussed Important Things. 

The boys did cool things like play soccer.  There were no sports available to me or my female peers until later, when I hit middle school, by which time we were pretty pathetic in terms of our skills. Our gym teachers (always women) seemed to actively despise the little girls -- one told us that we could never, ever, ever be better than the boys no matter how hard we tried, and another divided our class into competing groups with male leaders and female helpers.  The Boy Scouts went camping in the woods, while the Girl Scouts had campouts in someone’s backyard. In general, boys got yelled at more but they got Respect, while we girls had to be content with a pat on the head. 

Everything I read or saw confirmed what seemed an almost inevitable male dominance.  I searched history books for strong female figures and found them all too few and far between.  Major American events like Miss America and football, with its cheerleaders smiling inanely on the sidelines, were exercises in the degradation of women.  Other major events like Princess Diana’s wedding in 1981 also seemed to be reminders of our lowly status -- in that case we learned that any daughter she might have would automatically be second in line to the throne after any boys. To borrow from a popular schoolyard taunt, everywhere I looked the message I got was, “Men rule, women drool.” 

There was some feminist consciousness in our household-- enough that I embraced the word “feminist” very early on -- but for the most part everyone around me seemed frustratingly sanguine about the state of things.  Meanwhile, I fretted ALL the time about what all this would mean for me when I grew up.  What if I grew up and found myself married? (I never thought of marriage as something I would want to do; it seemed more like an inevitable adult situation.)  Would any man really be willing to follow me to all the places my career might take me overseas?  What if I had a child?  Who would take care of the child?  What if the man didn’t want to do any housework or childcare? (After all, I’d never seen a man who did.)  Also, wouldn’t employers be afraid to hire someone like me who might end up having a baby? And would employers want to hire me if their clients might think I would be inferior to the male employees?  And how could I command respect when women and girls didn’t seem to be respected in general?

I talked to my parents enough to see the issues but not enough to see any solutions.  The only responses I got were empty promises of, “You can do anything a boy can if you set your mind to it!”  and “Maggie Thatcher did it!” But secretly I thought it seemed hopeless at times -- and I came from a family that was about as supportive as it is possible to be in terms of female ambition. 

There were glimmers of hope, of course. I reveled in my discovery of Elizabeth I, whom I still adore.  I was vaguely aware of a few women politicians.  And in the ‘80s, there seemed to be more and more professional women and high profile female athletes, like my other heroine, Joan Benoit.  I hope things were better for the generation ten years younger than I.  I suspect, however, that girls still have long conversations in adolescence about how they will go about balancing motherhood and career, while boys just think career. 

Fortunately, things have turned out better for me than I could have hoped. I don’t believe that I have encountered any sexism in my professional life, and I have had a rewarding and successful career thus far. (Of course, not having a child could have a lot to do with it.)

But my experience growing up was vastly different than my husband’s.  Think of all the fears churning in my head while he was skipping along to Little League, proclaiming that he wanted to be an astronaut, and assuming all structures were in place to aid him in accomplishing that. Dealing with that early sense of doom in my childhood is what made me a feminist and remembering it keeps me one.     


You've probably heard about Self-made Man, the book by Norah Vincent, a woman who went undercover as a man for 18 months to see how the other half lives.  I read an excerpt from her book in the most recent People Magazine and one portion in particular struck me. (Yes, I read People Magazine rather than The Economist. So I am not a serious person.  Bite me.)

Anyway, the portion that struck me was her frustration and anger at women she tried to date when she was a man. She was angered by their icy demeanor and the power they had over her.  She apparently believes this is a common reaction among men and I suspect she may be right.  Here is how she describes it:

The first night we went to several watering holes that catered to young professionals.  As I got up to approach the bar, I could see the women I was heading for absorbed in conversation.  The female me knew that my approach, no matter how unassuming, would be perceived as a little pathetic and detestable.  I didn't want to be that nuisance guy women dread.

"Hi, ladies. (Ladies? Jesus.) Sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to meet you." The women looked me over like inferior produce, then smiled weakly.

As I talked to one woman, I found myself switching to her point of view.  Seeing how protected she seemed, I remembered my brother saying, "They only want one thing.  That's how guys are."  I had, I realized, treated most men with the same coldness that these women were showing me. 

[Norah then reveals her true identity to the women.] Then, with startling quickness, we all began chatting like hens.  The inclusion was physical.  When I'd approached as Ned, they had only bothered to turn halfway around to talk to me, their faces always in profile.  Now they turned all the way. 

[Later] I found myself thinking about rejection and how small it made me feel.  Dating women as a man was a lesson in female power.  I disliked women irrationally for a while because of it.  I disliked their superiority, their accusatory smiles, their entitlement to choose or dash me with a fingertip. 

One reason this section struck a chord with me is that the dynamics Vincent describes seem oh so very familiar.  I've been in bars with groups of female friends when a man approaches. I have observed the icy tolerance my friends have extended to these poor saps.  This type of interaction always makes me incredibly ill at ease, because I hate seeing people embarrassed. It is at odds with my own instinct towards acting with an eager puppy-dog friendliness towards anyone who hasn't yet proven to be ill-intentioned.   

Warmth and friendliness, however, can get a woman into trouble in this context, because it is perceived as promising something.  I am not saying life is a cake-walk for men, who to this day are perceived as responsible for initiating all romantic interactions, but women seemed to be damned-if-we-do and damned-if-we-don't.  We are, after all, still considered responsible for policing men's behavior and "not leading him on."

The technique I perfected in public places like bars was the full-face, warm smile, accompanied by a firm, "It's very nice to meet you, but I came here to catch up with my friend."  This has the advantage of being up-front without forcing me to take on an ambiguous ice-queen demeanor that makes me uncomfortable.  Unfortunately, this directness often resulted in men storming off angrily or calling me names or simply ignoring my request to be left alone.  Very few men withdrew politely (and back in my single days, those were the men I always wished I HAD talked to after all).   Frankly, the ice queen approach seems a bit safer because it rarely provoked an angry reaction; instead, the man would eventually give up in defeat and we women could get back to laughing and talking to each other.

Of course, a lot of the problem is that there is no well-defined dating etiquette in our culture.  Manners are not taught in any systematic way and, even if they were, there is no real consensus in our culture as to what appropriate dating etiquette is. Since there is no established etiquette, the raw power dynamics take over, each side's prejudices hold sway, and people get hurt. 

I have suggested some tips here that I think would go a long way towards reducing misunderstandings between the sexes.      

(NOTE:  I should also point out that Vincent apparently experienced not only a sense of vulnerability towards women but a sense of entitlement as well. Why SHOULD she have expected anything but an icy reception when interrupting a group of strange women who were already "absorbed in conversation" ?)


I have been appalled at stories of the crushing system of gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia ever since childhood, when I first heard harrowing tales of life in that country from various friends who had lived there.  I was possibly even more appalled to be told, "It's just their culture, dear." 

The Saudi system includes the absolute and total relegation of Saudi girls and women to second class citizenship, including:

-- not being allowed to drive

-- not being allowed to travel without a husband or male escort

-- not being allowed to leave the country without one's husband's or father's permission

-- having to get one's husband's or father's permission to do other basic things, like change cell phone numbers

-- being required to be covered from head to toe

-- being subject to physical attack on the streets by the religious police if one is not deemed to be properly covered

-- not being permitted to vote or run for office (although supposedly the restrictions on voting may be lifted in a few years).

-- having the right to inherit from one's parents only half the amount one's brother may inherit

-- having to have corroboration from three eyewitnesses in order to prosecute a sexual assault (in essence, meaning one cannot prosecute a sexual assault)

-- having one's testimony in court be worth only half that of a man's

-- having one's marriage arranged by one's male relatives

-- automatically losing custody of one's children (those over the age of six) in the event of divorce

-- suffering gender segregation in all areas of public life-- separate and definitely unequal

And this is just a bare outline of the laws.  Imagine the day-in and day-out degradation of having to live under these rules every day.  Imagine being subject to total control by one's own family members and not being able to do anything about it.  The Makkah school fire of 2002 is one particularly atrocious example of how women's second class citizenship actually plays out:  the religious police essentially killed 15 young girls by preventing them from fleeing the grounds of a burning school because they were not clad in proper Islamic dress.

So here's my question.  I grew up in the '80s and early '90s when race apartheid in South Africa was a constant concern here in the U.S. and Europe.  Throughout my high school and college years, South Africa was constantly in the news.  There were plays and books everywhere devoted to exposing the injustices in South Africa.  There were rock concerts held to draw attention to the plight of black men and women under apartheid. Students at my high school and college were always demonstrating to protest my schools' investment in companies that did business with South Africa.  South Africa was considered a rogue nation and its athletes were not permitted to compete in the Olympics. 

So why is it that since the '70s I have only heard bits and pieces in our media about the mistreatment of women in Saudi Arabia? Why is there not more of an international outcry over this?  (I know, I know, oil and the U.S. need for a military ally in the region may have a little something to do with it.)  But where are the idealistic college kids? Where are the protests over investment in Saudi? Where is the outrage over the systematic degradation of half of the human race that is occurring in a modern, industrialized ally of the United States? 

It may be that there are more efforts underway than I am aware of in this regard, but if so, they certainly aren't getting much media attention, and certainly not compared to the constant outrage one used to hear over the situation in South Africa.  Indeed, I had never heard Saudi Arabia compared to South Africa until I did some internet research in preparation for writing about this idea and found this editorial from five years ago.  I will admit that I have never been much of an activist (time to rectify that now?) and I may not have too many effective ideas about this issue, but I would like to know why this doesn't get more attention at least from the liberal/activist community, what can be done about it, and how I can contribute. 

Other helpful information can be found in this article from women's enews entitled Taking the Gender Apartheid Tour.  Also see the segment on women's right from the webpage for The Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.


The distinguished Dr. Violet Socks has explained more eloquently than I WHY women can't just comfortably rest on our laurels in light of the progress made in the last 30 years:

Ever since I set out to study history 30 years ago (determined, in my own adolescent phrase, “to find out everything that has ever happened”), I’ve encountered few phenomena more constant than the inferiority of women as a class. Whether it’s Sumerian merchant wives or Roman matrons, Chinese concubines or Greek hetaira, whether we’re talking about medieval Europeans, pre-Columbian Mayans, or modern Pakistanis, women are at the bottom of the pile. The fleeting examples of relative gender equality are few, and come almost exclusively from pre-civilized cultures in benign environments.

The modern feminist revolution is a soap bubble, a blink of an eye, 30 years against 6,000.* Will it last? The patriarchs are working hard to destroy it, and male reclamation of our uteruses is virtually a done deal. Only a fool thinks the gains we’ve made are irreversible and that feminism is obsolete. There is a huge fucking Borg ship out there called 6,000 Years of Women Are Shit. And it’s bearing down on us. Resistance is futile, it says. You will be assimilated . . .

*At least 6,000 years. Probably more.

Read more here.

Meanwhile, Richard's effort to help us feminists present our message more effectively has already paid off!  A new term is taking off in the feminist lexicon - chrrrrrrrl power.  Here are some examples of chrrrrrl power at Twisty's place and Pandagon.

UPDATE:  More from some churl girls at Heo Cwaeth and F-words.  Also yet another inaccuracy on Richard's blog: the woman who points out that the central female figure of Christianity was commanded by God to bear a child without her prior consent is obviously not calling "her" God a rapist.  As a self-described "heathen" who frequents atheist message boards, she is obviousely criticizing this aspect of Christianity from the outside.  To say she is calling "her" own God a rapist makes her sound crazy and I can't help but conclude that this is yet another deliberate distortion of a feminist's words. 

SECOND UPDATE:  I should clarify the point about the woman who critiqued the story of the immaculate conception.  I am the only one who has argued that it is a significant distinction that she herself is not a believer in God.  Heo Cwaeth and F-words don't touch on this point. 


Feminism is not a monolith, nor is it a dogma.  The only thing you have to believe in order to call yourself a feminist is that ensuring women's freedom and equality of opportunity in all spheres of life is a crucial priority.  That's it.

Feminists all work from that basic axiom, but aside from that we are an incredibly diverse group.  We are diverse in five ways:

1) We come from every conceivable background and life experience.  There are feminists from every country, every socio-economic class, every religion, every sexual orientation, every profession, every race and ethnicity.

2) We are diverse in terms of style and personality and lifestyle.   

3) We are diverse in terms of emphasis.  Some of us focus on fostering equality in the realm of sex.  Some of us are concerned with the equality of opportunity for professional women.  Some of us care most about cultural attitudes regarding the proper roles and characteristics of men and women.  Some of us criticize organized religion, while others work for reform from inside faiths such as Catholicism or Mormonism or Islam.  Some of us stress the issue of violence upon women.  Some of us are primarily concerned with reproductive rights.  Some of us point to gender apartheid in places like Saudi Arabia, while others criticize inequities in comparably more "liberated" societies in the West. 

4) We are diverse in terms of the conclusions we draw from our feminism.  Feminists often disagree with each other on all sorts of things.  For example (and this is a gross simplification, by the way) some feminists believe that pornography is inherently degrading to women whereas others may believe that participation in pornography is potentially empowering.  The point is that both camps are looking at the issue in terms of how pornography affects women's freedom and equality.  Both camps are feminist even though they reach diametrically opposed conclusions.  As another example, I believe strongly in the equality of opportunity for women in business, but I would be very much opposed to the United States imposing a quota like Norway's where companies are legally required to have a 40% female board of directors. 

5) We also have other things we care about that aren't about feminism.  My husband is one of those maddening people who will say, "I don't think I'm a feminist. I'm a humanist because I am not ONLY concerned about women's equality."  But I haven't met too many feminists who are concerned about women's equality and nothing else.  For me, I care very deeply about ending the death penalty, ending the corporal punishment of children, protecting our civil liberties across the board, and ensuring equal treatment for men, gays, people with disabilities, people of different races, etc. etc. etc. among many other issues that are not specifically feminist.

I suppose people may be inclined to say that my definition of feminism is so broad as to render feminism irrelevant.  People often ask, well, doesn't everyone think that women should be free and equal?  Sadly, the answer is no.  There are whole nations devoted to a system of crushing gender apartheid.  And in our own culture -- remarkable though our progress has been over the last three or four decades -- limiting assumptions about women's proper role run rampant and highly influential organizations like Focus on the Family are doing what they can to turn the clock back for women.    I try to illustrate what I see as the continuing relevance of feminism issue-by-issue in the posts I write, but I have also alluded to that contining relevance here and here.

For me being a feminist means starting with the basic axiom of feminism -- that ensuring women's freedom and equality of opportunity in all spheres of life is a crucial priority-- and then coming to my own conclusions on each feminist issue.   


Oh Richard, Richard, Richard.  I shouldn't take the bait, but I can't help myself.  Richard is disturbed by the "churlishness" of many feminists.  I am not sure exactly what he means by churlishness, but according to dictionary.com, churlishness refers either to "vulgarity or boorishness" or "a surly, bad disposition."  Apparently, many of us aren't as well-behaved, decorous or as chipper as he would like.

As Exhibit A, he presents photographs of feminist protesters carrying signs.  One sign reads, "Keep your hands off my body and I'll Keep My Hands Off Your Throat."  This seems like a legitimate point to me.  The protester is essentially saying that laws forcing women to undergo compulsory pregnancy are tantamount to an assault on her person.  Sure she's going for shock value and I suppose you can disagree with her point or call it churlish, but so what.  The other sign simply reads, "Fuck your Agenda."  I am not sure what this refers to, but this seems to be in line with the American protest tradition.  Protesters on a wide variety of issues use bad language to convey extreme disagreement with the government's policies.  Some people are sensitive to bad language, some of us kinda like it, but it's hardly unique to feminism. 

As Exhibit B, we have this quotation from this post at Twisty Faster's site, I Blame the Patriarchy:

Porn is the direct result of misogyny. When the glazed, bloodshot eyes are poked out of the “male gaze” and women are accorded fully human status, rather than sex class status, by our oppressive patriarchal culture—i.e., never— pornography will cease to exist.

I don't get how this is churlish.  Feminism is about ensuring freedom and equality for women, something I am sure even Richard would agree with in the abstract.  So, it is natural for feminists to examine and critique the sexualization of women in our society (in pornography, strip clubs, the Miss America pageant, cheerleading, Hooters, etc.) in light of feminism's basic goal.  Of course, there is a great deal of disagreement among feminists as to what conclusions can  be reached from this examination.  Twisty's conclusions are just one of a panoply of feminist analyses of pornography and sex in modern American culture.  One can say she's wrong, but "churlish?" I don't see it. 

Finally, as Exhibit C, we have the picture at Bitch Ph.D of a cute little girl defiantly giving the finger.  It's vulgar and it's funny and it's great!  As I've mentioned in the past, many of us women suffered mightily as little girls under the expectation that we should always be docile little people-pleasers with clean fingernails at all times, an expectation that continues to dog us as adults and that does not fall nearly as heavily on little boys or grown men.  Sure, I don't run around actually giving the finger to people, but metaphorically I do give the finger to anyone who tells me that I ought to be a certain way or live my life a certain way or take a subordinate role because of my sex. 

Feminism is in many ways about pointing out the negatives women face in the world because of our sex.  We have to point out these negatives in order to rectify them.  These negatives make us angry, and rightfully so.  I may be the happy feminist, but I get angry too when I perceive that I or members of my sex are being treated like second class citizens.  Let's engage the issues -- do feminists have cause to be angry? -- rather than berating feminists for being unladylike.   


The latest trend in education seems to be the outcry over boys being left behind by a "feminized" educational system (see Shakespeare's Sister's take on this here) coupled with a push towards single-sex classrooms in public schools. 

I have mixed-feelings about single-sex education (and yes, I attended a women's college) but I will begrudgingly admit that there's nothing inherently wrong with it.  What worries me, however, is that the latest trend seems to focus on implementing different curricula and different rules in girls' and boys' classrooms based on the grossest sex stereotypes.  Tonight I came home to my "People" Magazine which features an article entitled "Should Boys and Girls Be Taught Separately?"   It focuses on Woodward Avenue Elementary School in Deland, Floriday which is modeled on the philosophy of Dr, Leonard Sax of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, who said, "Most boys learn better standing up.  Most girls learn better sitting down."  For example:

[In a boys'] history lesson on the Alamo, the boys got out of their chairs and pretended to shoot an imaginary enemy.  [In the girls' class], a lesson on the Holocaust consisted of reading about a Jewish girl during the war and talking about how they would feel if it happened to them.

The typical day for a 5th grade girl at this school involves reading The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (a historical novel about a 13 year old girl on a seas voyage during the 19th century), 15 minute breaks outside having snacks and talking with friends, and my favorite -- "awaiting instructions before starting experiments" in science.  The boys read The Rats of NIMH series, take 15 minite running breaks "between lessons," and in contrast to the girls in science, "start experiments without having to wait for instructions."  (emphasis added). 

Granted, this article doesn't go terribly in depth, but to me, it smacks of the same old pernicious stereotypes under which I suffered as a little girl. (And I do mean, "suffered" quite literally.)  I well remember being confined to the doll corner by hawk-eyed teachers while the boys got the run of the classroom to play war games during recess -- and I see the same thing here with pictures in the article of little girls sitting bent over their desks, while the little boys wander around or sit sprawled on the floor doing their written work.  I also remember the boys being praised and indulged for their "boys will be boys" antics, while any such boisterousness was severely disapproved in girls.  Extreme docility was demanded of us girls, yet were also criticized for being less inherently creative and bold than the boys. 

Susan McGee Bailey of Wellesley College's Centers for Women summed up my reservations: "By assuming all boys are X and all girls Y, we are shortchanging students similar to the opposite sex in interest and abilities." 


Feminist attitudes towards prostitution vary.  I used to believe in the legalization of prostitution and its regulation to contain public health risks and to ensure the consenting participation of all involved.  I may have to rethink that position in light of the many intelligent feminist critiques to the contrary.  I don't have much personal knowledge of prostitution because prostitution was not an issue in the rural county where I prosecuted.  But the topic (which I was thinking of relative to the prior post) reminded me of a brief incident from my youth.

When I was 19, my parents lived in New York City. That summer, I went for a jog along a jogging path on the East River in the middle of the day.  The path was dotted with benches where homeless people would sometimes sleep.   After I finished my jog, I emerged from the jogging path area at a stroll, wearing my old sweatpants, a t-shirt, and my hair tied up in a rubber band.  I wasn't carrying anything because I had put my key and some identifying information in my shoe.  I guess I must have looked pretty ratty.  Anyway, as I stood at the cross-walk, a shady-looking guy approached and asked me if I had any place to stay.  I told him no thank you, I was just fine.  He assured me that he could give me a place to stay and a way to earn lots of money.  I looked at him full in the face and told him firmly, "No thank you. I live here and I have a job."  When the light changed, I walked with a brisk and determined stride towards my parents' apartment building. 

I guess it's no surprise that those recruiting girls and women into prostitution would often choose the most desperate.  I often wondered what  it would have been like if I had spent the night on a bench on the East River without a penny to my name.  I wondered what would have happened if I had told this helpful man that I needed a place to stay and a way to make money.  Where would he have taken me and what would have happened next?


In my role as self-appointed Ambassador of Feminism, I am going to insert myself into a blog pie fight and try to use it as a "teaching moment" (term used slightly tongue-in-cheek). 

In a recent post, Laurelin in the Rain quotes from an article by Katherine Viner in the Guardian as follows:

[P]rostitution is booming and official Britain has now acknowledged that the buying of sex is not just a fact of life but an expression of men's power over women, which would not exist in a free and equal society.

In the comments to that post, Richard opines that prostitution is not an expression of men's power over women.  Prostitution he says is about "men who wanted sex that wasn't otherwise available."  Laurelin then responds as follows (with emphasis added):

That these men think that sex should automatically be available to them, that they think female bodies should be available for them to buy is a sign of men's power over women. Men have power over women while women's bodies are seen as something they have a right to, while women's bodies are available to be bought and stolen. Sex is not a right.

Richard then posts the following on his blog regarding Laurelin's comment:

I was floored by this. I unfortunately have little doubt Laurelin is sincere, and I wonder how awful it must be to live a life with those sorts of beliefs. Imagine going through life as a woman, as anybody, believing that men view women as commodities to be bought, sold, traded, or "stolen". Imagine being a woman honestly believing men are of the opinion that they have a right to her body. Imagine the stress of trying to function day-to-day with such a degenerate worldview. Is this modern-day feminism? I hope not. How perverse. How sad.

And thus we see right before our very eyes the origin of the stereotype of the "man-hating," bitter, depressed feminist.  Somehow when Laurelin criticized "these" men who participate in prostitution, Richard heard "all men." She referred to the power these men have over prostitutes, many of whom are not willing participants in prostitution, and the institution and societal norms that support that power.  The article quoted also asserts that the glorification and acceptance of prostitution could affect societal mores.  Richard apparently concluded that Laurelin goes through life believing that every man SHE encounters views her as a commodity to be "bought and stolen."  This is a huge leap from what Laurelin actually said.  She was talking about a situation in which women literally ARE bought and stolen as sex commodities.

Look, I'm the happy feminist.  I go tripping through life quite delightedly, reveling in my good fortune to be a beneficiary of the feminist movement and enjoying positive and healthy relationships with my male family members, male co-workers, and male friends.  But that's not to say that being a happy feminist means closing my eyes to the very real exploitation of women based on their femaleness that still exists in many parts of the world.  Yes, looking at the reality of sex slavery throughout the world, or the ways in which women in many countries still are in fact viewed as chattel to be bought and stolen, and examining whether such views are still implicit or gaining credence in our culture is a necessary exercise if we are to (a) help women who are subject to this kind of thing and (b) work to ensure equal and fair treatment of women everywhere. 

I personally haven't thought enough about issues related to prostitution (at least not recently) to give my own opinion on the issue of whether prostitution should be legalized or regulated and to what degree. But Laurelin's critique of prostitution is undoubtedly a valid one.  My main point and what I find telling is that somehow this critique -- of an institution in which women literally are bought and stolen -- was heard as a criticism of all men in the world and interpreted as a paranoid and sad delusion.  Because of course tripping along delightedly enjoying one's good fortune and closing one's eyes to very real evils in the world is preferable so as to avoid becoming "bitter" or "angry."   


Lifelong feminist though I am, I failed to see abortion as an important feminist issue until the past couple of years.  Abortion doesn't seem like an issue for relatively privileged types like me because we have every weapon at our disposal to control our fertility.  As a well-read young girl, I entered adolescence with fairly accurate knowledge about birth control, knowledge which was supplemented by even more specific information in the biology class at my private high school.  I had enough confidence to demand condom use, even when my somewhat older new boyfriend scoffed at me and insisted that there was "no risk at this time of the month."  I was able to go to my college infirmary and obtain a prescription for a birth control pill, without any judgment or second guessing by my doctor.  I also had enough money to fill my prescription every month and a pharmacy that was willing to fill it. 

I thought about the worst that could happen -- an unwanted pregnancy -- but I just kind of assumed that I could carry the child to term, and possibly give him or her up for adoption.  I didn't know too much about what pregnancy entailed, but all the pregnant women I'd known made it seem easy.  But, of course, I never got pregnant and, as far as I know, neither did anyone else in my relatively affluent and well-educated circle of peers. 

When I consider all the things I used to take for granted, it's embarrassing.  It didn't occur to me how many girls out there don't know the foggiest thing about how to prevent pregnancy.  It certainly never crossed my mind when I was a teenager that adults might actually want to prevent teenagers from knowing about reliable means of contraception.  I also didn't think about the fact that the people-pleasing, and even mousiness, so often ingrained in girls might make it hard for many of us to stand up to a boy who is intent on having sex without a condom.  Nor did I ponder that it might not be so easy for poorer or younger women than I to gain access to some of the most reliable means of birth control or to pay for it.  And certainly, when this first became an issue for me more than fifteen years ago, I could never have imagined the possibility of a pharmacy refusing to dispense oral contraception or that some groups would try to define oral contraception as an "abortifacient" (an issue I have discussed here).   

I knew that there were some risks of an unwanted pregnancy, even on the birth control pill (although I had never heard before today that my birth control was unreliable at times when I was on antibiotics or had the stomach flu).  But I was sanguine about the possibility of pregnancy.  I am not old enough to remember the terrible stigma that unwed mothers used to face (although even now, the stigma still exists). I didn't have abusive parents or boyfriend who would make my life a living hell if I wound up pregnant, and I had sufficient medical insurance to see me through the medical aspects of pregnancy.  I didn't know about all the risks of pregnancy, which are said to significantly outweigh the risks of abortion, and I hadn't yet read Redneck Mother's post detailing the burdens of undergoing four miscarriages and two other pregnancies. I never thought that the laws of my country might make it difficult for me to get an abortion should I have an emergency need for it, and I naively trusted my lawmakers not to be cavalier about my basic health needs.  I also didn't consider the fact that giving up a baby for adoption mightn't be so easy, especially if the baby were disabled or not white. 

My older self is much more informed, mainly through reading, about the enormous problems faced by countless pregnant women.  And those myriad problems highlight the most significant problem of all with the anti-choice movement. The burdens of pregnancy on a woman are enormous -- significant enough to derail the chosen course of her life or to wreck her health or to even deprive her of her life.  And yet, a significant portion of this country views the unborn embryo or fetus as more important than the pregnant woman's dignity, autonomy, aspirations, and health.  I know the debate over when human life begins can turn into one of those endless go-arounds of people not being able to see any common ground -- but, my goodness, there really isn't much to a developing fetus for quite some time after conception.  I know pro-life groups see the development of the fetus as a recognizable human form as their greatest weapon in ending abortion.  But a fetus is nothing more than a clump of cells for the first few weeks.  The nervous system only just begins to develop at 23 days, and by 32 days, the fetus is still an extremely primitive bug-like form.  At 54 days, elements of the brain are in place but there is still no cognitive function.  (Source:  Time Magazine, photos available only with a subscription number).

And yet significant segments of our society exalt the interest of this primitive lifeform with no cognitive or neural ability above the hopes, dreams, self-determination, and health of full-grown, sentient girls and women.   Somehow, even in the first week before implantation of what is only an undeveloping clump of cells, many view the fertilized egg as taking precendence over the woman having to cope with all the enormous burdens I have described.  That is why feminists decry the pro-life movement as reducing women to mere baby-making vessels. That is why abortion is a feminist issue. 


Today is Blog for Choice Day, sponsored by Bush v. Choice, a pro-choice blog sponsored by NARAL Pro-choice America.  I, along with about 200 other bloggers, have signed up to blog about reproductive choice today.  You can check out all the Blog for Choice links here.

Meanwhile, I will be working on my entry.  This is a toughie for me because I have only become strongly pro-choice with regard to abortion in the last couple of years.  But the more and more I see of the ways that social conservatives want to limit women's control over, access to, and knowledge of contraception at all costs, the more I think that women need to fight for as much control over our reproductive destiny as possible, up to and including the right to abortion.  I'll try to flesh this out more as I work on my entry today, but meanwhile please check out the other links for strong pro-choice voices. 


I am going to be pulling quite a late night catching up on a lot of work that I won't be able to do tomorrow while I'm at a training seminar.  So I don't have time to blog, but fortunately there has been a lot of great blogging done elsewhere, including stories from the women at Mind the Gap as to why they became feminists.  Read them here, here, and here

Also, I've been meaning to critique a National Review interview of Kate O'Beirne, author of the delightfully titled  Women Who Make the World Worse: and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military, and Sports. (Hat tip to Mrs. B).  Feministe, however, has beaten me to the punch with a takedown of Ms. O'Beirne's interview with Rebecca Traister in Salon.

Please also check out the commentary in Black Looks on Monday's inauguration of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as the new President of Liberia and (I believe) the first woman elected president in Africa.  She's got a real challenge ahead of her in light of the serious issues of corruption and nation building in her war torn country. 

And last, but definitely not least, Emma at Gendergeek generously describes (at my request) her experiences when she was a fundamentalist Christian.  As you all know, I have a great deal of interest in but difficulty understanding women who belong to very conservative Christian denominations.  I have read stories of women who have transitioned from a sort of feminism to fundamentalism, but I have not seen too many women write about the opposite transition. 


24-year old middle school teacher Debra Lafave sleeps with her 14-year old student, and her husband blames . . . feminism. 

Clare at Ink and Incapability shares this lovely quotation from the husband, as found in the U.K.'s Daily Mail:

I also blame the feminist movement. Women are constantly being told that no one has a right to tell them what to do with their bodies.
Of course.  If you tell women that they should have a say in their own sexual and reproductive destiny, they're  gonna run out and rape babies.  I am not sure how this cause-and-effect analysis explains all the men out there who have cheated on their wives and had sex with their 14-year old students, but I am sure feminism is somehow to blame. 


(CAVEAT:  Not that we women necessarily care whether men are attracted to us.  Some of us are lesbians.  Some of us value other things in our lives as much as or more than having a man. Some of us have relationships with which we are satisfied and don't need to be seen as desirable by every Tom, Dick, and Harry. Furthermore, I have no data to back up my observations.  This post is about the world as I perceive it.  Plenty of more conservative-minded folk write extensively about their subjective impressions of gender relations, so I may as well share mine.)

Popular belief, furthered by the likes of Maureen Dowd and many others, holds that men are threatened by professionally successful women. This popular myth couldn’t be farther from reality, at least according to my own admittedly unscientific observations. Men understand the alpha-dog model of human relationships. They seem to be exquisitely sensitive to hierarchy. They understand why power is important and desirable. They expect people to be direct in their pursuit of power and they can relate to a desire for independence. I don’t think that in general men hold it against a woman who plays the game of life on what were traditionally considered male terms -- in fact, quite the opposite. They appreciate it because they can relate to it.

Feminism is, in large part, about women playing the game. It is about women asserting their right to climb the hierarchies of our society, whether it is the partnership track in your law firm, or a political position, or taking an equal role in heading the home. It is about women defining themselves not only in terms of their familial and marital relationships but in terms of pursuits independent of those relationships. I am obviously speaking in a massive generalization but I firmly believe that, on an individual if not a philosophical level, men respect a woman who lives in a feminist way. And I think that in men, as well as women, respect for a member of the opposite sex can -- when combined with other things (such as liking) -- lead to attraction. Attraction in turn can lead to love. My experience from talking with both male and female friends about their love lives (people like to confide in me, I'm like everyone's favorite aunt), men very often find independent and successful women devastatingly attractive.

Somehow when I was growing up, I didn’t get the memo about how you’re supposed to play dumb in order to catch a man. I thought it was the opposite. I couldn’t imagine being attracted to a dumb or unambitious guy no matter how good looking, so I assumed boys thought the same way about girls. I assumed that being smart and funny and forceful were just as important as being pretty to get boys to like me. If there was a cute boy in my class in high school, I made absolutely sure I had my homework done and something intelligent to say in class. If a cute boy said something in class, you bet your boots I’d contradict him and get into a debate. I honed my ability to come up with witty one-liners. Although I was more interested in flirting than dating in high school, it always seemed to work for me then and later in life (although I will admit that my husband has asked me to please agree with him occasionally just for kicks).

I realize now that being pretty probably would be enough to grab the attention of your average 15-year-old boy-- but my experience has been that a 15-year old boy as well as 35-year-old man is going to be that much more intrigued and for a longer period by a girl or woman who has her act together. And while I don’t think every woman has to be in Congress, I don’t believe that holding a successful or powerful position in public life is going to detract from a woman’s desirability in the eyes of most members of the opposite sex. (I certainly have met individual men, including but not limited to my deeply sexist ex-boyfriend, who do feel threatened and uneasy around powerful women. I do not however believe that such insecurity is a universal or inherent aspect of the male psyche.)


Hugo wrote a post  recently about his desire to present the United States in a positive light when traveling overseas.  That got me thinking about my own upbringing in other countries. Even as a young child, I was always very conscious of the fact that, in the eyes of many people I met, I was representing the United States.  My behavior, I thought, could go some way towards chipping away at stereotypes people held of graceless, rude, or ignorant Americans.  My discussions of my own country could help people understand the positive aspects of the U.S. and our culture and political system. 

In light of those memories of being a sort of child ambassador for my country, I began to think about what I am doing here in the blogosphere.  Mrs. B once asked me why I comment so frequently at Biblical Womanhood Online (which is dedicated in part to "confronting the lies of modern feminism").  And that’s an excellent question because, you know, I don’t expect to “convert” anyone to feminism.  I don’t expect to see Christian traditionalists like Zan and Mrs. B or cranky skeptics like Richard marching on Washington wearing t-shirts that say “This is What a Feminist Looks Like.” (I mean "cranky skeptic" affectionately, of course.) But I nonetheless love having conversations with them and with any and all other non-feminist or anti-feminist readers of this site or other sites.

And I think it’s because I relish the “ambassador” role.  I like putting a face on a movement that is so often stereotyped and dismissed.  I like explaining where feminism is coming from and why it’s still important.  I like showing that there is legitimacy to this social movement that has been such a boon to my life and the lives of so many people, and that it is neither dead nor irrelevant.  I would be happy if my blog would simply lead readers to perhaps listen to feminists a little more closely, rather than just dismissing us as crazed, power-hungry ideologues.  You can all certainly make up your own minds.  You can even agree with feminist goals in certain areas and not others. But I just hope that you consider the issues with an open mind and at least think about societal and personal issues from the perspective of furthering women’s dignity, autonomy, equality, and opportunity for full participation in society.      

Now I have to be careful, of course.  I see pitfalls in the blogging role I have adopted for myself.  One pitfall I worry about is the possibility of compromising too much in order to ingratiate myself with my non-feminist cyberfriends.  I certainly want to engage the issues in a thoughtful way that takes into account legitimate or rational concerns some people may have about feminism, but I don’t want to be so measured that the passion I feel about many feminist issues is lost. 

Another pitfall is described quite effectively in a post I just loved a while back at Mind the Gap.  I don’t want this blog to be about the fact that I’m NOT one of those angry, hairy, lesbian feminists.  Because certainly feminists often have good cause to be angry.  And, there is nothing wrong with being either hairy or lesbian.  I am well aware that, as a type, I may have an appeal to a broad spectrum of people who may be more likely to dismiss the opinions of traditionally despised groups.  It’s pretty obvious from how I have presented myself here that I am a white, American, capitalist, college-educated, white-collar, straight, married, make-up wearing, leg-waxing, man-appreciating, girl-next-door type. And because I’ve made those facts about me obvious, I question whether I am playing too much into the role of, “Hey, I’m not one of those hairy, angry, lesbians!” In other words, am I implying in some way that feminism, or social liberalism, is okay up to a point, as long as you lead a fairly conventional lifestyle, as I do?  Because I certainly don’t want to disavow other lifestyle choices or traditionally scorned groups.  On the other hand, I could also be playing into negative stereotypes about feminists because, except in age, I fit the demographic of those old-time, second-wave feminist establishment women who run NOW and other similar groups, and who are often hated for allegedly being elitists completely out of touch with the concerns of ordinary women. 

After turning these ideas over in my mind for a few weeks, I’ve ultimately decided that (in the words of Popeye) “I yam what I yam,” and I may as well let the chips fall where they may while I have a ball conversing with all the different people who find their way to this site.  Jenn at Reappropriate said it best when she  described how the blogosphere taught her that feminism isn’t about being “fervently pro-woman, anti-man.” I look forward to doing exactly what she advised: “And we, as feminists of all shapes, sizes, colours and creeds should take it upon ourselves to spread the understanding that you don’t have to be anyone but yourself to be a feminist: it is not some exclusive club or secret cult, but a simple stand that anyone, regardless of lifestyle or personal choices, CEO or housewife, can take and embody.” 



When I interned at a defense attorney’s office during college, the criminal defense community was up in arms with regard to a pamphlet that one of the area colleges produced with a title something like, “Could You Have Been Raped Without Knowing It?”  I am not sure I ever saw the pamphlet or what it said, but I remember thinking how ridiculous it sounded.  I remember thinking, “I’m not a moron. I think I’ll know it if I am raped.” 

That was before I learned how muddled and confused the thinking about “consent” is among the public at large when the context is rape.  When you scratch the surface in discussions with witnesses, jurors, police officers, and even victims themselves, you learn that people really seem to think that “it’s not rape” unless the victim tried to fight it to the death.  I remember my own father saying that rape is virtually impossible because it would be too difficult to hold a woman down and complete intercourse if she is struggling.  This argument of course ignores the fact that a woman can be forced into compliance and that she shouldn’t have to choose between having nonconsensual sex or having her brains blown out when she struggles too much.  This argument also ignores the fact that women are taught from earliest childhood that they are not capable of resisting a man physically. 

People also seem to have difficulty getting their minds around the notion that it is rape if the man involved is married to his victim or has had prior consensual sex with her.  I’ve seen the lightbulbs go off on people’s heads when I have explained it in terms of the fact that the man does not own the woman from the time he first has sex with her forevermore.  But people do not seem to initially think of the issue in those terms. 

The following are three real-life examples from my former caseload as a prosecutor-- and for the sake of the discussion as to popular understandings of consent, let’s please accept the women’s allegations as true.  (Obviously, in real life, we examined these allegations critically in light of all the evidence before deciding to prosecute and then the allegations were subjected to the “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in a jury trial.)

These examples all relate to women who were forced to have sex against their will.  Each one of these women told me that they had not wanted to have sex but felt they had no choice under the circumstances. Each woman felt violated and angry at the man involved.  These were not ambiguous situations.  These were not situations in which the man might have erroneously believed that there was freely given consent. Yet, the women involved did not themselves identify what had happened to them as criminal.  They themselves seemed to believe that they were somehow complicit because they “went along” with something they were forced to do, or in the second scenario, the woman seemed to believe (if you follow her reasoning to its logical conclusion) that she did not have the right to ever retract her prior consent to having sex with someone -- i.e. that she was her boyfriend’s to do with whatever he liked because she had consented to sex with him in the past.  As I told her at the time, if that were the law, I would advise any woman I cared about never to get married or have sex with anyone!

I know this is turning into a rant, but it never fails to amaze me how women’s basic right to self-determination is so easily dismissed or misunderstood when the context is rape.  Unless the woman locks herself up in a monastery for her own safety, remains unmarried and virginal all her life, and fights to the death if anyone breaks into the monastery to rape her, she is at risk of being considered somehow complicit if she is raped.  I am not saying these are well thought-out positions among the public at large, but these are the general attitudes that one encounters in rape prosecutions even among the vicitms themselves, even in the most egregious cases. 

First Scenario  Victim’s male acquaintance breaks into her apartment and grabs her.  He is in a rage because she had refused to go out with him.  He roughs her up a bit, including belting her across the face and throttling her. He then forces her at gunpoint to drive him to his house, where he keeps her overnight.  He specifically tells her that he will shoot her if she tries to escape.  He is distraught and talks repeatedly about how much he loves her.  He talks about wanting to live with her in Mexico.  Her survival strategy was to pretend to go along with his plans.  She wanted to gain his trust.  When he had sex with her that night, she “went along with it” in order to survive.

After finally escaping, she went to the police.  She expected that he would prosecuted for kidnapping, assault and threatening.  She was, however, shocked when I brought a rape charge against him.  She didn’t feel that she had been raped because she had “gone along” with the sex.  When I questioned her, however, she said that she had “gone along” with it because she thought (quite reasonably under the circumstances) that he would blow her brains out otherwise.  But, to my shock, in her mind, she herself felt that it was not a rape because she had not resisted in any way.  (Under the law in my jurisdiction, sex that occurs during the course of a kidnapping is rape, and even if that were not so, I think the physical threat against her was sufficient to make this a rape.)

Second Scenario  A woman and her boyfriend got into an argument culminating in him punching her and then forcing her to have sex. Neighbors had heard the screaming and called the police.  The woman had a black eye.  She was initially cooperative with the police and agreed that her boyfriend should be charged with assault. When asked by the police, she said that she had not wanted to have sex with her boyfriend at that time and that he had “forced her.” She was, however, puzzled by the rape charge because she had had consensual sex with her boyfriend on prior occasions .  In her mind, it wasn’t a crime because she had had a prior consensual relationship with him. 

Third Scenario  A 25-year old man is supervising a sixteen year old girl in a fast food restaurant.  After telling her that he really wished someone would give him oral sex (he didn’t put it quite so politely), he suddenly pulled her into a supply room, pushed her forcibly down on her knees, and yanked down his pants. (I don’t remember the precise sequence of events or what exactly he did physically to accomplish all this.) He told her that she “owed him” because he hadn’t fired her when she was late to work.  She told him “no” and tried to get up and leave, but he pushed down on her shoulders and pushed her face into his crotch.  He was yelling at her and calling her a “bitch.”  She felt that she had no choice but to give him oral sex and so she complied. She “wanted to get it over with.”  He was charged with rape on three theories under the law in my jurisdiction (A.  using his position of authority over a victim under the age of 18 to coerce her into having sex, B. physically forcing her to have sex, C. having sex with her despite the fact that she indicated both physically and verbally that she did not wish to do so.)

This scenario came to light because immediately afterward, she ran to her best friend’s house and tearfully told the friend what had happened.  The friend told a guidance counselor at school the next day, and the guidance counselor called the police.  The victim, however, had made statements to the friend that he “made me do it, but he didn’t force me.”  The victim beat herself up emotionally because she believed that she could have done more to try to wrench herself away from this guy or that she could have screamed.  When I asked her why she didn’t, however, she said (a) she believed that he would hurt her if she had resisted and that because he was so much bigger than she that any attempt to escape would be fruitless, and (b) that she would lose her job, which was an important source of pride and financial support to her.  (Note that my jurisdiction does not provide criminal law protection to adult women who are coerced into having sex on the job.  Adult women are expected to know enough to say “no” and to pursue the appropriate civil remedies.  My victim, at age 16, however, was considered old enough to consent to sex, but not old enough to withstand coercive on-the-job pressure to have sex. This seems like a sensible balance to me.  An adult woman in this scenario, however, could be said to have been raped under the theories of physical force or the theory that she had indicated verbally and physically that she did not consent.)


Those guys at Lawyers, Guns and Money are so cool.  We have Scott Lemieux explaining why he is a feminist.  As usual, he gets right to the heart of the matter: societally-imposed gender norms stifle human individuality leading to very real costs in the lives of women, including his own mother and grandmother. 

Then we have DJW describing why he, too, is a feminist.  He tackles the same idea but from another angle -- the limitations that men suffer in a patriarchal society.  His description of his grandfather's befuddlement when he had to cook for himself reminded me of my encounter with a 50-something gentleman in my apartment complex's laundry room.  This man was recently divorced and seemed utterly bewildered by the washer and dryer.  He kept asking me all sorts of questions about how to do his laundry. (Should he sort?  What criteria should he use to sort?  How does he figure out how much detergent to put in? What cycle should he use? What is fabric softener? And on and on, prompting me to say ultimately, "I don't know! I just throw it all in, put in my quarters and press the button! It's not that hard!")  I sensed that part of it was that he was embarrassed to even be seen doing such a lowly task as laundry and wanted me to know that this was outside his realm of experience. 

Finally, be sure to check out Lauren's post at Feministe on her experience getting through college and emerging this month with her well-earned diploma.  Having become a single mother while still in her teens, Lauren's experiences are different than the expected norm.  I think her achievement is (in the charming words of my father) a kick in the crotch to all the people who said that carrying her child to term would ruin her life and all those professors who treated her as though she were a whore just because she was a young single mother.  So kudos to her!  Go read her post!


So yesterday I went out to lunch with a couple of lawyers from my office, both women about my age.  We started talking about another woman in our firm, who is a few years older than we are and a partner. This partner is highly respected in our firm and in the legal community at large.  My husband once had a case against her and came home muttering about how this woman is a "helluva" lawyer. She is very smart and very intense.  And a large part of her success is due to the very long hours she works. She is in the office late every night and all day every Saturday without fail.  She also volunteers a ton o' time to numerous charitable organizations. There is no doubt that this woman has worked her ass off for everything she has achieved, but she also clearly loves the practice of law and the causes to which she has dedicated herself.  She happens to be unmarried.

One of my friends at lunch was contrasting Woman Partner's work habits with her own, noting that she is not as driven as Woman Partner.  My friend then commented in passing, "Of course, I don't wanna wind up dying alone with my cats." 

OK, I know this was just an off hand comment.  I also know that the comment reflects my friend's worry about her own single status.  But this pity for highly successful single women that I hear all too often in our culture -- and all too often from women themselves -- drives me nutso.  We see it on Sex and the City, in posts by Opinionistas (whom I otherwise adore), or entire books by Maureen "I wish feminism were a dating service" Dowd. 

Lest you think that it is all too easy for me to opine from my Smug Married perch, I should point out that it is quite likely that I myself will die alone (with my dogs though, not cats). I have no siblings, no reproductive plans on the horizon, and there is a darn good chance that I will outlive my husband by a significant number of years.  I am quite prepared to live for many years as an elderly lady with absolutely no family.  And I am not worried about it.  Because all the choices I have made-- from my dedication to my career, to my choice of a mate, to my possibly permanent postponement of having kids -- are choices I have made gladly with my eyes wide open.  These are choices in which I find great meaning and value, and I firmly believe that I will look back on my life with no regrets even if I do meet my end alone and forgotten. 

I find the possibility of looking back and realizing that I didn't live up to my potential or didn't live life to the fullest far more horrifying than merely being single.  I don't think that our workaholic woman partner has much to worry about in this regard: she is taking the opportunity she has for a full, exciting, and valuable legal and charitable career and running with it as fast and as far as she can go.  I don't know what her feelings really are about the course of her life, but if she's smart, she is worrying about what she can control rather than about the things she can't.  We can't really control whether we meet a person with whom we want to spend the rest of our lives and who wants to spend the rest of his or her life with us.  If such a relationship happens to work out --  great, that's icing on the cake-- but it shouldn't be how we define whether we are fulfilled or pathetic. 

And, of course, the other piece of this is that we very rarely, if ever, hear the same kind of "tsk, tsk-ing," with regard to successful single men.  This may be because we accept that single men aren't bound by the dreaded "biological clock," and that men are considered valued dating prospects until far older than women.  I believe this also due to the fact that we still see independence and achievement as desirable for men, whereas we still, even perhaps subconsciously, tend to define women in terms of their relationships to others (wife-and-mother). 

I think probably every human being on the planet struggles with loneliness at one time or another.  And I certainly don't want to fault anyone who wishes to meet the right person and marry.  But I wish more women would resist the societal expectation that it's somehow MORE important for them or their female peers to get married than for the successful single male partner down the hall. And women should also resist the notion that we are fools for pouring our energies into accomplishing things rather than going on a manhunt.  I want to hear less whinging from Maureen Dowd and more women saying, "SCREW it.  I'll be a single workaholic and proud of it if I wanna be."      

CODA:  As I was writing this I realized that the most famous movie scene of someone dying alone with his cats involves a man -- Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in Godfather III.  I cry like a baby every time I see that scene.  Of course, it was his life of crime (which, paradoxically, he had embraced for the sake of his family) that caused Michael Corleone to wind up alone.  This is a tadsy bit different than the warnings women have to put up with about how they will have to live as lonely old women just for being too successful.      


My goal in my marriage as my husband's wife is that I always do what makes him "feel like a man." I know it might sound silly to some, but I truly think that we as women have the power to make our men feel like men and we also have the power to take their masculinity. I really believe that if I want my man to act like a man... I have to treat him like a man (and part of that is taking his name). Does this ring true to anyone?

I want to welcome new commentor Chrystabelle to this site.  I think it’s fair to say that her comments reflect a very traditionalist view of gender relations, and I am always particularly interested to hear from people with such views.  Her comment got me thinking about what it means to be “masculine” -- and what it means for a woman to have the power to “emasculate” a man.  I’ve hesitated to write about “masculinity” because this is a topic that has been pored over by all sorts of thinkers and scholars, none of whom I have read.  But, you know, sometimes you just have to say what the heck, so here’s my take on it.

I have written before that I view femininity as just a style that I can take off when it suits me.  But masculinity means something slightly different to me.  To me, masculinity, in its most positive sense, is the grace with which a man handles the fact that he is (or is expected to be) significantly larger and stronger than most women.

A few months ago I read a column, maybe in MSN, about what your teenaged son is really thinking.  One of the things the typical teenaged boy is supposedly wondering is why he has to do what his mother tells him when he can easily overpower her.  (I can’t seem to find the link but, trust me, I didn’t make this up.)  This “typical” teenaged boy, in my view, is well on his way to developing a masculine persona that is dangerous to others and to himself.   

To me, the ultimate masculine male accepts his physical advantages for what they are -- no more, no less.  He doesn’t apologize for his strength.  He may choose to push his body to its limits athletically and to take pleasure in what it can do. If he is in a position to use his physical gifts to help someone, he will do so -- whether that means helping someone lift a heavy bag or rescuing someone from physical danger. 

But his entire sense of self-worth does not hinge upon his “superior” size and strength.  He does not think that he has a right to be in charge of everything just because he can overpower his wife or his mother or his female colleagues.  He recognizes that might does not make right.  He recognizes that men do not have a monopoly on heroism or physical strength, and therefore he does not feel “emasculated” by an in-charge woman, an independent woman, a woman who plays American football, or a woman who defeats him athletically. (Pause while I re-live one of my favorite memories-- of the time my teeny 16-year-old self defeated all six of the strapping and very male U.S. Marines who participated in a 10K race in my expatriate community.  That made me happy!  I’ll probably mention it several more times on this blog.)

My ideal manly man is not threatened by having to take direction from a female boss or by perhaps earning less than his hard-charging wife.  His physical strength is not central to his identity so he is able to cope with maybe being short, or maybe being a little shrimpy or not-so-strong -- and he is able to cope with the loss of his physical gifts, as my husband did when his spinal cord was severed during an accident, leaving him with a permanent, severe disability. 

So I guess I think of masculinity as a somewhat limited trait, rather than a characteristic that defines a man’s entire personhood.  As a woman married to a man, my job is not to “make” my husband “feel like a man.” I am pretty sure my husband felt secure in his male body, both with and without his disability, before he met me, and I don’t think there is much I could ever do to either add to or detract from that. It is my job to make my husband feel loved and respected and admired and needed as an individual, not as someone whose worth depends on fulfilling a narrow role (protector and provider perhaps?) dictated by societal norms developed before he was even born.  I expect the same in return from him. 



I am surprised and pleased that this post has generated so many interesting comments from so many diverse perspectives.  We have comments from (among others) sex-positive feminists (including moi), a Christian conservative, a lesbian feminist, a straight man, and a 33-year old male virgin touching on issues of the meaning of sex outside of marriage, when a person's sexual fantasies may or may not be considered "feminist," whether the concept of virginity is hetero-normative, how to define virginity, and whether valuing virginity too much contributes to our culture's unfortunate exaltation of sex above other aspects of life.  I hadn't intended to write that much about sex and sexual identity on this blog, but all of these comments are so good, I have a swirl of potential posts running through my head. 


I have to confess that I haven't read too many feminist writers and I only took one Women's Studies class in college.  But I devoured Simone de Beauvoir's classic, The Second Sex, the year after I graduated from college.  At the time, I thought she was spot on at certain points but at other times I found her disappointing and jarring -- especially when she talked about "the essence" of woman and what have you.

Well, it turns out that the one-and-only English translation of The Second Sex contains a number of significant errors.  At times the English translation is exactly the opposite of what de Beauvoir intended to say-- especially when it came to "essentialist" language about women.  Ampersand at Alas, a Blog provides the details

As Ampersand tells us, there are a number of translators who would be willing to do a new translation but Knopf, which owns the exclusive English language rights to the book, will not permit it.  Ampersand has written a follow up post with more details and a link to a petition to request Knopf to publish a new translation.  If you would like to know what de Beauvoir really meant, do sign up!


In Europe and America, women are generally no longer subject to humiliating and painful rituals to ensure that our hymens remain intact until our wedding night : no inspections of the bedsheets for blood after the wedding night to confirm we were still virgins on that important occasion, no forced gynecological exams to confirm or dispel suspicions that we have lost our virginity before we ought (a practice that has been known to occur in Saudi Arabia), and no sewing up of our private parts for the purpose of protecting the hymen (a widespread sub-Saharan practice known as infibulation). 

Nonetheless, our own society is apparently not immune from the notion that the hymen is something to be prized -- even though it is just a membrane that serves absolutely no purpose other than to make first intercourse a painful experience for many women, an anatomical peculiarity our species shares only with pigs.  Apparently -- brace yourself for this -- women in the Middle East, Latin America, and now the United States, are paying for surgery to reconstruct the hymen!*  "It's the ultimate gift for the man who has everything," says Ms. Yarborough, 40 years old, a medical assistant from San Antonio [who paid $5,000 for the surgery on the occasion of her 17th wedding anniversary].

Oddly enough, after discovering this bizarre story yesterday, I found myself reading about another hymeneal surgical procedure-- the hymenotomy.  According to Joan Jacobs Brumberg in The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls, a hymenotomy is a surgical incision of the hymen which gynecologists began performing in the '30s and '40s to prevent hemorrhage, pain, and infection on the honeymoon. While this sounds awfully progressive in that it focuses on ensuring a positive sexual experience for the woman, alas no:

Because doctors in the interwar years did not want to make premarital sex too easy, young women who came asking for the special surgery were likely to be interrogated about their marriage plans and the identity of the future husband. And some physicians wanted assurance that the bridegroom had given his approval since "an occasional man might want to convince himself that his bride is a virgin" [according to a gynecology textbook of the era].  As late as 1939, gynecologists were advised to obtain the permission of the groom, since it was still assumed that he had a custodial right to the membrane. 

While it may seem to many of us that the concept of male ownership of women's bodies is long extinct, it was certainly alive and well within living memory (my own grandmother who is still alive and well was married in 1936) and perhaps still lurks not far below the consciousness of many modern-day Americans like Ms. Yarborough.

*Via Pandagon and Lawyers, Guns and Money.


Okay, after testing the waters as to how a post about my own cuteness might go over, I have decided to give my account on what it is like to be a woman who was considered “pretty” or “cute” during adolescence and young adulthood.  This is something that is hard to talk about because generally it is a topic that breeds resentment among other women and among men, as well: the beautiful woman has something other people want but can't necessarily have.  As a result, I don't think there is much written from the perspective of good-looking women about their own good looks.  Beautiful women are often considered objects of desire rather than fully human agents in their own right -- but of course that is far from the case. 

As I have mentioned before, I was brought up with a strong feminist consciousness.  So it didn’t bother me as a child that I was an awkward and shaggy-haired Caroline to my mother’s glamorous Jackie.  It was understood in my family that my mother’s beauty was her primary social currency, whereas I, being raised to discover the cure for cancer or whatever, had no need to worry about such a trivial thing as my own surface attractiveness. I expected to be a homely person and I viewed that homeliness as a sign of being smarter and deeper than your average “girly-girl.” I guess I bought into the sexist notion that a woman can be smart or she can be attractive but she can't be both.

That all changed, seemingly overnight, when I looked in the mirror one day at age twelve and suddenly realized with shock that, “Hey, I am really very pretty.”  I remember being sort of transfixed by my own reflection because I was so surprised.  It was around that age that I started to be flooded with constant compliments about the way I looked.   First, an older woman rushed up to my mother when we were in a hotel on vacation and gushed about what a beautiful girl I was.  Older men, friends of my parents, invariably complimented me.  One said that I was going to be a “heartbreaker” one day.  Another called me “dimples” and (more creepily) asked me if I had started my period yet.  (To this day, I still don’t know what that was all about.) Boys in my middle school would approach me and awkwardly confess that they “liked” me.  One boy asked me in front of the whole school if I would be his girlfriend and ran off in humiliation when I said no.  I spent the weekend crying in my bathroom because I felt terribly ashamed for somehow getting this boy to like me and then embarrassing him in front of everyone.  I wasn’t sure what I should have done differently but I felt that I was somehow responsible. The boy’s sister declared war on me and bad-mouthed me to all her friends.

I went through some awkward periods in high school (bad haircuts, bad wardrobe choices)  when the attention dried up, but for the most part I continued to get lots of validation based on my looks.  There was a shrimpy little guy in my class whom I didn’t know but who apparently had some sort of crush on me.  Some of the older cooler guys took him under their wing:  they would kind of push him forward or dare him to say something to me while they all poked each other and laughed.  I got a lot of similar attention from other guys who wanted something from me -- a date, a smile, a relationship, something.

It seems very silly and innocent now, and there are surely far worse problems in the world, but at the time, I really didn’t know how to cope with this kind of attention.  I found it sort of pleasant and sort of stressful at the same time.   I was kind of a nerdy, bookish girl who was overcoming a strong shy streak.  I didn’t necessarily want the positive attention to end but I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do about it either.  I also had some experiences in which boys became hostile if I didn’t comply with whatever demands they made on my time or my attention.  Although I had a fairly natural, low maintenance look, I also became more pre-occupied with my looks at this time.  I lived in dread of gaining weight.  It seemed far worse to have people say, “Oh my god-- did you see what happened to Happy?  She’s let herself go,” than to never have been noticed in the first place. 

During my college years, I spent much of my time on my women’s campus, or living in Manhattan where my boyfriend was, and making money as a temp secretary in businesses all over the City.  Despite my experiences in high school, I found myself shocked by all the sexualized attention young women receive in New York City.  I was not in any way prepared for the daily onslaught of comments on the street or for the fact that I would get “hit on” regularly by men much older than myself.  Again, I would be less than honest if I pretended that I didn’t find any of this pleasant-- but at the same time it was a stressor.  I used to think of it as “girding” myself for whatever that happened that day when I went out on a temp job -- sometimes it was harassment (the guy who would rub his whole front across my back accidentally-on-purpose when I was trying to get something out of the supply closet), sometimes it was just creepy (the old guy who popped a piece of candy into my mouth and called me “pussycat”), and sometimes it was sweet (someone asking me out on a date).  But I constantly had to make decisions about what kind of response was warranted, or whether to respond at all.  There was a sense that as a young woman I was somehow expected to react to the attentions of whatever random men on the street might see fit to approach me.  (A particularly annoying example has been written about by other bloggers-- the men who would command me to “Smile!”)

The benefits of being considered attractive are, of course, legion.  I am well aware that people were probably more polite to me than they might have been if I had been a guy or had been considered “homely” in some way.  If I asked directions, a gruff police officer would walk me three blocks to my destination.  Sales people or officials went out of their way to accommodate me.  I could usually get a date fairly easily.  The positive responses of other people helped me to overcome my shyness.  There is no doubt in my mind that I am able to have a “happy shiny personality” because people are generally nice to me, and that people tend to be nice to me because I look appealing to them.

For the past 8 or 9 years, however, I really haven’t had a lot of compliments on how I look or other positive looks-based validation.  I think that’s due to the fact that I have been living in a more rural/small-town area, that I am married, and that I mostly move in professional circles where it is inappropriate for attorneys to tell each other they’re hot.  There is some relief in not having my appearance be such a factor in my daily life.  But I also feel flashes of sadness when I realize that I don’t look the way I did at 21.  I am no Janet Leigh or Catherine Deneuve, women with great bone structure who look good at any age.  My attractiveness was based on the fleeting virtues of a “girlish” figure, a radiant complexion, and good coloring.  I don’t feel that I am an old crone by any means, but I certainly feel that I am fairly ordinary looking at this point and that I have lost the “oomph” that people once found so attractive.  Although I may not have fully appreciated it at the time, I had some unharnessed power in being able to command instant appreciation when first meeting people.  I have never valued looking good above all else -- in fact, I define myself primarily in terms of my job and my marriage -- but I do mourn what once was.  I wonder sometimes if my kids will ever believe that I was once pretty, and I am glad that, no matter how old we get, my husband will remember me as I was at 23.  I know my mother, who depended on her beauty far more than I ever did, has been very bothered by becoming elderly-- and I wonder whether it will be tougher for me to see the effects of age on my face and my body than it would be if I had never had the experience of constant looks-based compliments and attention.   


Only ten years ago, as a dewy 24-year old, I used to roll out of bed, splash cold water on my face, throw on some clothes, and head out the door.  I didn't have any kind of beauty regimen because looking radiant seemed to come naturally at that age-- even if I'd gotten drunk and slept only two hours the night before.  This morning, as I shelled out big bucks for Oil of Olay Night Firming Cream, I realized that there are a number of things I do now that never crossed my mind in 1995, like:

-- Wear Make-up

-- Wax

-- Dye my hair

-- Whiten my teeth

-- Use various anti-aging creams

-- Worry about how haggard I'll look if I don't get enough sleep

-- Monitor intake of calories through Weight Watchers online (A great program by the  way: if you do what they say, you WILL lose weight while still enjoying  food, and the little graphics are so cute).

-- Wonder whether I should have my eyebrows professionally shaped

All this stuff takes TIME, MONEY, and MENTAL ENERGY.  Maybe I should blame the patriarcy as Twisty Faster advises.  I tend to blame my own vanity, but maybe Twisty's right.  A lot of these new pre-occupations began around the time I hit 30.  I once heard Howard Stern opine that the ideal time to catch a woman is when she's in her early 30s, because that's when she's starting to get nervous.   I must have started getting nervous. 

I've had a post rolling around in my head for a while called "On Once Having Been a Cute Girl," but I've been nervous about writing it.  I don't know if I will, or not.  It's kind of a wierd thing to write about -- I know it's something I could never talk about with anyone I know.  But I think being considered, or having once been considered, attractive (at least according to conventional standards) has had an effect on who I am -- an effect on how people relate to me, and a corresponding effect on how I view the world and my place in it.  It will be interesting to see how my self-image, or the image people have of me, might change as I grow older. 


I am finally getting around to my promised post on the oral argument in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood.  Ayotte is about a New Hampshire statute which requires that minors notify a parent 48 hours before obtaining an abortion.  The statute provides for criminal and civil penalties against doctors who perform such abortions without ensuring parental notification.  The statute includes a judicial bypass provision and an exception where an abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother.  There is no exception however where an abortion is necessary to preserve the health of the mother.  The lack of any health exception violates the clearly stated precedent of the United States Supreme Court. A major question in this case is whether the entire statute (which was only narrowly passed by the New Hampshire Senate) must be struck down due to the lack of a health exception.

The oral argument  is definitely worth a listen.  My pal David Souter (a New Hampshire native himself), cornered New Hampshire's Attorney General Kelly Ayotte  and forced her to concede within the first couple minutes that the Constitution does indeed require the statute to have a health exception.  Ayotte argued however that New Hampshire simply wouldn't enforce the law if a doctor performed an abortion to preserve the minor's health in those "rare" cases when the parents or the judge could not be located in time. 

Two aspects of the argument stood out to me: (1) the willingness of those defending the statute to rely on "solutions" to the health issue that are patently unlikely to be of any use during a true health emergency and (2) the so-called judicial conservatives' advocacy of an "activist" solution-- the reading of a health exception into the statute.

Ayotte argued that no health exception was necessary because New Hampshire's "competing harms" defense would protect any doctors who violate the statute during a health emergency.  This is patently ridiculous.  As Justice Ginsberg observed, no doctor is going to want to rely on having to assert a defense to a criminal prosecution in the first place, even assuming that the doctor understands that the defense is available to him.  (There was some joking by the justices about what advice the doctor's lawyer would provide, assuming the doctor's lawyer was on hand in the emergency room.) 

As an ex-prosecutor, I can assure you that the "competing harms" defense or its equivalent (at least in my jurisdiction) is hardly ever successful.  Being a law geek, I looked up New Hampshire law on competing harms and, sure enough, it's a very tough standard to meet:

For the defense to be available, a number of requirements must be satisfied.  The otherwise illegal conduct [in this case providing an abortion without parental notification] must be (1) urgently necessary [to avoid a "clear and imminent danger"], (2) there must be no lawful alternative, AND (3) the harm sought to be avoided must outweigh according to ordinary standards of reasonableness the harm sought to be prevented by the violated statute.

State v. O'Brien, 132 N.H. 587, 590 (1989)(emphasis added); see also N.H. R.S.A. 627:3.  In fact, the trial court in O'Brien did not even allow the defendant to raise the competing harms defense in the jury trial because these factors were not present-- so defendant couldn't even argue it to a jury.  Clearly, the competing harms defense is a last resort, designed to be difficult to meet. 

Most any doctor considering whether to provide an abortion to a minor during a health emergency is going to be extremely reluctant to do so under New Hampshire's statute, even assuming the doctor is aware of the competing harms defense.  All three factors quoted above are subject to scrutiny and are likely debatable in any scenario that comes up. A doctor who wants to avoid criminal prosecution and civil sanctions is going to err on the side of declining to provide the abortion.  The teenager whose health is at stake -- perhaps her vision or her future fertility -- is going to lose out. 

Ayotte-- sounding to me a bit desparate as the justices pounded her with questions -- also volunteered that she would issue an advisory opinion outlining the circumstances in which the statute would or would not be enforced.  In other words, she was saying, "Trust me, doctors, trust me, justices, I won't prosecute doctors who violate the statute in emergency situations, so see there's no problem."  Of course, her promise is good only as long as she's in office, and it will require her to engage in some analysis, at this point unknown, as to when the exception would apply. It would also put her in the position of legislating through the executive branch and reading into the statute an exception that the legislature did not intend.

Justice Scalia suggested his own solution.  He proposed to Planned Parenthood Attorney Jennifer Dalven that New Hampshire simply set up a hotline in which a judge would  be available 24 hours a day to provide a bypass in the event of an emergency.  He asserted that all that was needed was a "30 second phone call," which the nurse could make while the doctor was donning scrubs for the operation.  Dalven responded by questioning the purpose of requiring such a phone call if it was just a matter of a judge rubber-stamping the doctor's decision.  Scalia responded that the purpose would be to "save the statute."  Scalia seems, as usual, to be completely of touch with the practical realities of how things work in the real world.  Dalven was effective in her response:  First, saving a statute is not worth the risk to a teenager's health.  Second, it's gonna take a lot longer than 30 seconds to find the hotline phone number, make the call, relay the facts to the judge, and give the judge a change to ask questions, consult the law, and make a decision.   In an emergency situation, you don't want health care providers to have to jump through these kinds of hoops at the expense of a young girl.  But the defenders of this statute seem bent on preserving it at all costs with a blind eye to the potential permanent consequences to a young, frightened teenaged girl in these circumstances.

The other more technical but equally important issue in the case is what the court should do about the blatantly illegal lack of a health exception in this statute.  Should the court strike down the entire statute or should the court simply issue an injunction describing those situations in which the statute is unenforceable?  Justice Scalia, famed for his judicial conservatism, basically said what's the big deal about reading a health exception into the statute.  Justice Ginsberg (joined if I remember correctly by Breyer and Souter) opined that it is not appropriate to read something into the statute that isn't there.  It's one thing to cross out one part of a statute, but quite a different thing to put in a "carrot mark" and write something into it that the legislature did not intend -- and there is evidence in this case that the legislature preferred to have no parental notification statute at all, rather than a parental notification statute with a health exception.  Hmmm . . . odd that the so-called judicial conservative is so-willing to re-write New Hampshire's legislation for it. 

The lawyer from the United States solicitor's office, arguing in defense of the statute, pointed to the case of Wisconsin v. Yoder in which the U.S. Supreme Court simply held a statute requiring compulsory elementary education invalid as applied to the Amish.  But that doesn't require any complex analysis of what the exception should be.  A rule that if you're Amish you don't have to go to school after 8th grade is awfully simple. Figuring out the parameters of a health exception is a lot more complicated.  For example, Justice Breyer proposed the exception should apply any time a doctor "in good faith" believed that an abortion was necessary to protect the mother from serious health consequences-- but then Justice Scalia wanted to add a requirement that "a substantial medical certainty" back up the doctor's determination.  As Dalven pointed out, the conflict between Breyer and Scalia highlighted the difficulties of writing something into the statute that wasn't there to begin with. 

I know I have some strongly pro-life readers on this site.  But even many pro-lifers support abortion when necessary to save the mother from long term health consequences.  This is what's at issue in this case.  And, frankly, I think even if you are pro-life, you may find it disturbing that the defenders of this statute are so cavalierly willing to put obstacles in the path of a young girl and her doctor who are faced with a potentially serious health crisis.  And if your concern is judicial restraint, well then, I would view with some skepticism Scalia's apparent willingness to rewrite New Hampshire's statute to add a provision that New Hampshire didn't want. 


It's been over a week since the oral arguments in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to strike down New Hampshire's law requiring that a parent be notified 48 hours prior to a minor's abortion.  And in blog time, that's like a century, but the case is still pending and awaiting a decision that will have significant implications for future abortion jurisprudence.  So even though I haven't had time to address it sooner, give me a chance now.  Meanwhile, while I'm working on my post, there is someone who has been a little more on the ball than I: to get your mind wrapped around the far reaching implications of Ayotte, go immediately to The American Prospect and read Scott Lemieux's article.  Also check out his post at Lawyers, Guns and Money.


The issue of married women taking their husband's names tends to provoke lots of commentary among women.  Your name -- whether it's your own or your husband's may not affect your life in any kind of material sense but the symbolism is awfully powerful.

As the child of feminist-thinking parents, I made my decision when I was seven or eight.  I remember examining an invitation addressed to my mother as "Mrs. John Doe."  I couldn't for the life of me understand why they were addressing my mother with my father's name so my mother patiently explained to me the conventions and etiquette regarding women's names.  At the end of it all, I asked with all the tactlessness of a young child, "Isn't it humiliating to not even have your own name?"  My mother paused for a long time but I'm glad she told me the truth:  "Yes."

Whenever the subject came up, I adamantly insisted in the face of patronizing chuckles that I would keep my own name upon marriage.  But when the time came, my fiance (now my husband) asked me to take his name.  He thought it would help us feel more "like a family."  And I gave his request serious consideration.  I was head over heels in love, I wanted to please him, and it was only a name after all.  Besides his name is cool -- short, sweet, easy to spell and distinguished-sounding.  No awkward ethinic vowels spilling out all over the place like mine.  And he really wanted it. 

But when it came right down to it, I couldn't do it.  I literally couldn't even imagine myself going through life under someone else's name, no matter how wonderful that person might be.   Eight years later and happily married, I am so very glad that I didn't cave.   My husband and I feel just as much a tightly bonded family as we would otherwise -- and our differing names help to convey to people right off the bat that I will not in any way, shape, or form, under any circumstances, accept a subordinate position based on my sex.  This refusal to compromise my feminism is a key aspect of my core identity.  In more ways than one, I wouldn't be me anymore if I had changed my name. 

Yeah, I have heard all the counter-arguments.  One guy at my job pointed out that I am still known by a man's name -- my father's.  But as I mentioned in the comments thread on Alice's post on this subject, it is my name as much as it is my father's.  I may have gotten the name from my father, and that fact may be a product of patriarchal traditions, but it's still MY name because it's how I as an individual have been known all my life. 

This naming issue is only one of a myriad of issues that women have to agonize and fret over in order to ensure their own equality.  I don't fault a woman who chooses to compromise on the name issue, but it is a compromise and a highly symbolic one at that.


When my husband and I went shopping yesterday, we found ourselves following a particular van for miles.  The rear window of the van had one of those little “Calvin” cartoon characters urinating on the words “My Ex.”  There was also a large sticker right in the middle of the rear window with the logo of the Dodge Ram pick up truck.  It said, “Watch my Dodge while I Ram your girl.”  Charming, huh?  I don’t usually bemoan the “coarsening” of our culture (in fact I often enjoy it!) but I found this example utterly grotesque. 


The name of this post is actually a goofy song my husband made up to mock (in a friendly way) the sports teams of my alma mater, Mount Holyoke College.  Our athletes are known (in a sort of low key way) as the Lions or Lyons, after the college's founder.  Founded in 1837, Mount Holyoke is the oldest American women's college, the fruits of Mary Lyon's extraordinary efforts.

After touring a number of colleges between Virginia and Maine, I decided I really liked the atmosphere and the classes at Mount Holyoke.  Mount Holyoke would probably be considered academically prestigious in many quarters, but  at my boarding school, brimming as it was with academic high achievers, Mount Holyoke wasn't considered any great shakes.  I experienced strong doubts about myself and my choice the summer before I started college as I listened to friends talk excitedly about going to places like Harvard and Brown.  In one particularly painful moment, a friendly acquaintance, well meaning and Princeton bound, gasped, "But you're so smart!" when she heard where I was headed.  When I moved onto campus in the fall, my doubts mounted as it sunk in that I would be in a virtually all-female environment for four looooooong years. 

Those four years turned out to be a great academic experience.  My isolation from male peers was tempered by frequent trips to Manhattan and a struggling artist boyfriend.  But it was the historical example of founder Mary Lyon that got me through my worst periods of doubt.  I have always been very aware of the history of my surroundings, and Mount Holyoke probably has the most inspiring history (for me anyway) of any American institution of higher education. 

Mary Lyon was the daughter of a farmer who had fought in the Revolutionary War.  She grew up in western Massachusetts, which was something of a wilderness during the early part of the nineteenth century.  Although she had numerous domestic responsibilities as a child and an adolescent, she was also an outstanding student and became an acclaimed teacher.  Mary Lyon's dream was to make university education available to female students. Although there were plenty of schools for women that emphasized the arts and domestic pursuits, not a one offered an education equivalent to that available at the numerous men-only universities already in existence.  The learned men at places like Amherst and Yale scoffed when Mary Lyon proposed that their instutions open their doors to women. 

So Mary Lyon rode around New England for three long years from 1834 to 1837 soliciting sufficient funds to open a real college for eighty women.  Her college was unique in its academic rigor for women.  Mary Lyon's academic passion was for chemistry and she insisted that her students receive as thorough a grounding in the sciences as their male peers, including lab and field work.   Mount Holyoke's chemistry department has a particularly strong reputation to this day.   

Mary Lyon's vision and her determination to see it through are revered on campus even now.  On Founder's Day in November, the seniors, dressed in their graduation robes, gather at Mary Lyon's grave (which is on campus) and eat ice cream (brrrr . . .) At graduation, the seniors, along with a host of alumnae present for reunions, march a winding route through the campus in white dresses bearing laurel wreaths which we ultimately drape on the wrought iron gates around Mary Lyon's grave.  We used to refer to this custom derisively as "the virgin parade," but when it came time to do it, I didn't feel at all like a dork, as I had expected.  I felt honored.   

More information about Mary Lyon is available here.


I wrote yesterday about the division of household chores in my marriage and the fact that I am satisfied with the arrangement that my husband and I have.  I am fortunate to be married to a man who does not have a sense of entitlement and who would be happy to renegotiate our division of labor at any time if I asked him.  The problem is that it is virtually impossible to insist on an equal division of labor if your partner is unwilling.  I know because I was in that situation with the boyfriend I dated for three years during college.

An incident that happened about nine months after I began dating my boyfriend should have been a huge red flag.  I had the day off from my summer work as a temp secretary and had specific plans as to how I was going to spend the day, when my boyfriend called and said, "Listen, I have a bunch of shirts that need to be ironed and I have a class tonight after work so I need you to go over to my place and iron the shirts so I'll have something to wear tomorrow."  He didn't say "please."  He didn't say "I really hate to ask you this but I'm in a real bind.  Is there any way you could do this for me?"  Instead, he  just flat out told me to do it.  And then he got angry when I said I had other plans! He took it as his due that I would travel 45 minutes across town to his apartment and spend my day ironing his shirts!  I get furious just thinking about it 15 years later. 

Fights over who was going to perform basic tasks became a regular factor in our relationship.  My ex-boyfriend really seemed to think that it was my job to tidy up his apartment when I stayed there (and I mean above and beyond just picking up after myself) and he always expected me to run out and get breakfast and a paper in the morning, or run out and pick up the food if we were getting take-out at night.

Now I had strong feminist convictions then (as well as now, of course), so I called him on it.  But even when I pointed out on numerous occasions (initially in a reasoned sort of way and then in an increasingly agitated manner)  that a girlfriend is not a #*(!!)! servant, his attitude was that I shouldn't be so hostile and that you'd think a woman would be happy to do things for her boyfriend. 

And that's exactly what made the situation so hard.  This was a man I otherwise found attractive, with whom I had a great time and for whom I had strong feelings.  His oafishness didn't occur in a vacuum -  it was one aspect of a relationship that included a lot of other things.  And it's exhausting to constantly have to fight over who is going to get the take-out -- sometimes it's easier to just cave.  I wanted to be a good significant other and do nice things for my boyfriend -- but I felt robbed of even being able to make sweet romantic gestures like making dinner because it had become such a sore point.  And lastly, I really wondered whether, even in my bubble of liberal urban college-educated people, there were any men out there who would ever agree to do their share of the housework.  My father certainly had never lifted a finger around the house.  For a long time I thought my choices would be: (a) remain single, (b) engage in the constant miserable tug-of-war over household chores which would sour me and all my relationships, or (c) simply give in and take on the woman's "second shift."

Ultimately, I dumped this guy (he was deeply sexist and controlling in many other ways), and things turned out okay for me.  But there are a lot of women out there who, because of cultural expectations that are not so easy to change, are stuck doing the exhausting and debilitating  hours upon hours of housework on top of full time jobs outside the home.  It's easy to say to these women, "Well, don't put up with it any more," but it is impossible to create equality in a relationship unless both parties are committed to it. 


One problem for working women is the proverbial “second shift.”  Women often find themselves working double time to cook, clean, do laundry and perform other household chores in addition to working full-time outside the home.  This additional workload leaves women who are subject to it with virtually no free time -- a condition that leaves them frazzled and exhausted and less able to compete effectively in the workplace.

I cannot pretend that my husband and I have an absolutely even division of labor, but I don’t feel disrespected or taken advantage of.  Our division of labor has evolved over time until it has become something we are each comfortable with.  My job outside the home has more demanding hours (12 hour workdays most of the time and lots of working on weekends) whereas his is an 8 hour a day, 5 day a week job.  I should also note that my husband has a disability, although that doesn’t really have an impact on his ability to do most household chores, except yardwork and cleaning the inside of his car.  The following is how we split up the chores: 

Cleaning the house (i.e. tidying, mopping, vacuuming, scrubbing, dusting, etc.) I will generally spend 4-5 hours on the weekend (or if I’m really motivated on Friday night) cleaning, scrubbing, etc.  This is my job about 70% of the time.  It tends to be my job because, true to gender stereotypes, I have less tolerance for mess and grime than my husband does.  My husband does not think it is necessary for either of us to clean every single week, other than tidying up clutter.

30% of the time, when I am superbusy or in trial, my husband will, on his own and without prompting, do the cleaning.  I hope to hire a cleaning service one day but at the moment we are saving aggressively for our house. 

Grocery shopping and other errands.  My husband and I generally do our grocery shopping together. When we go shopping together my job is to take the groceries in from the car and his job is to put them away.  My husband really enjoys shopping whereas I would rather spend my time in other ways.  He does the shopping on his own about 20% of the time when I am too busy or just don’t feel like going. 

Laundry.  We each do our own load of clothes each week.  In addition, I do the sheets and towels and, occasionally, just to be nice, I do my husband’s laundry too.  I am also in charge of taking the drycleaning to and from my office where a service picks it up.

Bills. My husband is in charge of making sure the bills are paid on time, and researching how best to conduct our finances.  I have veto power over major financial decisions. (I also, ahem, make 1.5 times his salary, although that could easily change to something more equal if he were to decide to leave the non-profit world.)

Cleaning the cars.  It is my job to clean the interiors of both our cars.  In theory, I think I should do this once a month.  In reality, I do it once every 3-6 months.   

Cooking.  Generally, we each fend for ourselves every night (canned soup or frozen dinners) or we get take-out, like Chinese food or pizza. My husband cooks something simple like hamburgers or pasta, maybe 2-3 times a week, plus cheesy eggs on Sunday morning, and I’ll rinse dishes and stick them in the dishwasher.  He tends to do more cooking because he cares more about having that kind of meal, whereas I’d be happy to just make do with stuff you can grab and stick in the microwave for a couple of minutes.  For a while, I made a practice of cooking a more elaborate meal on Sunday nights and I am hoping to re-institute that after the New Year-- but I view that kind of cooking as a hobby, not a chore. 

Taking care of the dog.  I play with, feed, brush and clean up after our corgi each morning.  My husband is in charge of him at night and our relatives check on in him and play with him during the day.  (We used to put him in daycare, but we’ve cut that out of our budget for now.)  

Yard work.  We pay my nephew to do the yard work.

Building our house.  My husband is in charge of figuring out the initial planning stages on building our house, although I have veto power, and will likely get more involved as the project progresses.  Right now he is perfecting the floor plans and reading "The Dummy's Guide to Building a House." 


As I have made clear before, the prospect of Judge Alito's confirmation to the United States Supreme Court makes me nervous. Planned Parenthood has launched a letter writing campaign in an effort to get citizens to write to their senators to oppose Judge Alito's confirmation.  The details are here.


Police Chief Mary Ann Viverette of Gaithersburg, Maryland was just recently sworn in as the President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police -- an elective position, by the way.  A good sign that the brass ceiling is not impenetrable!


More thoughts as a follow up to yesterday's musings.  The problem with a lot of stereotypically female traits is that they tend to be disabling -- traits like meekness or timidity or excessive emotionalism.  Those are the types of traits that I would not be ashamed of necessarily, but that I would try to change.  (Of course, there are also stereotypically feminine traits like empathy and compassion which I view as strengths.)

When I was growing up, I was painfully shy.  I was also easily frightened by bullies.  I don't know if I had those traits because of my sex or my socialization or just the personality I happened to be born with.  I do know that these were aspects of myself that I was determined to overcome.  At school, I would set mini-goals for myself like, "Today I will talk to three boys" or "Today I will initiate a conversation with someone I don't know."  I also made a pact with myself that I would stand up for myself in some fashion whenever I was bullied or treated disrespectfully-- no matter how stupid I might look or what the consequences might be.  There were times when I overreacted to bullying or said the wrong thing or said something foolish, but I tried to force myself to always respond in some way. Over time, and with practice, I learned to handle confrontation very effectively, probably better than most people in fact.   

I am happy to report that no one who knows me today would ever in a million years suspect that I was once a shy kid.  I am also happy to report that I have not (at least not since my first year of law practice) ever allowed myself to be bullied.  Over the past seven years, I have successfully maintained my policy of not taking crap-- not from bosses, not from judges, not from opposing counsel, not from my dad, not from anyone.  I think I handle adversarial situations and confrontation as effectively as my male colleagues.  So am I inherently an outgoing, assertive person?  Not really -- but I have learned those skills because I recognized my timidity and shyness as problems to be overcome. 


Samara asked for more information on the upcoming Carnival of Feminists, which I am hosting on December 7. 

DATE OF THE POST:  We want recent posts, so the post should have been dated November 15, 2005 or later. 

DEADLINE FOR SUBMITTING POST:  Please submit posts to me at veryhappyfeminist@yahoo.com by December 5, 2005.

CONTENT:  This site explains what the Carnival of Feminists is all about.  The term "feminist" isn't a rigidly defined term (although as host I have the discretion to determine that a particular blogger or blog post doesn't really qualify). The founder of the Carnival, Natalie Bennett, offers the following suggestions for content:

. . . [T]here should be some sense in a post addressing women's place in the world. Posts should also be more than a collection of links, and include substantial original content.  Posts that celebrate women's lives and contributions to society - either current-day or historical - are particularly welcome.

So bring it on! I am really looking forward to reading all the posts!


I was struck by the following observation in Zan's comment below my post on women in combat.  She said (in part):

I don't know why some of you can't swallow the fact that women are better at some things than men and men are better at some things than women. To me, it seems like you are ashamed of your sex and trying to change it. I am proud of my sex. I am proud that I have the ability to bear children and exhibit my natural feminine abilities. I am not trying to change who I am but simply embrace my strenghts and limitations.

Where Zan and I clearly have a difference of opinion is that I think the differences between men and women are far fewer than was traditionally believed.  Obviously, I can bear children whereas men cannot.  And most men my age can lift heavier things than I can.  But in term of toughness, courage, ambition, aggressiveness, nurturing abilities, compassion, objectivity, and other such qualities, I don't think men and women really differ that much.  It's obviously hard to separate nature and nurture, but I feel that I, as an individual, am not much different than my male friends, colleagues, and relatives with regard to cognitive, psychological, and personality traits.  I present myself in a relatively feminine manner (in terms of dress and bearing) but, as I've written before, I think my femininity is simply a style that can be cast off when the situation requires. 

And yet-- when I think about it, I have an extremely strong sense of gender identity.  If you told me that I would be turned into a man tomorrow, I'd be horrified.  I have no desire whatsoever to be a man-- notwithstanding the many advantages of having a man's physical strength and a man's inability to get pregnant.  But even though I have that strong subjective feeling of wanting to be a woman, I am not really sure why.  I most likely will never experience pregnancy.  My job as a litigator, which is an important part of my identity, is a traditionally masculine role requiring traditionally masculine traits and styles of behavior.  My lifestyle isn't that different than most of the men I know.

So what does being a woman mean to me? I just don't know except that on an entirely subjective level, I really like being a woman.  I suppose my heterosexual orientation has a lot to do with it.  My relationship with my husband is a crucial part of my life. Before I met him, I hugely enjoyed being attracted to, dating, and flirting with the opposite sex.  And (embarrassing confession forthcoming), in a romantic or physical relationship, I admire and enjoy the fact that the man has greater physical strength -- even though in other contexts I would prefer to have equal physical strength and, to the extent I do have equal physical strength, I get a huge kick out of besting men in athletic events (long distance running was once my forte). 

There must surely be more to my gender identity than just my sexual orientation but it's a mystery.  I am certainly not ashamed to be a woman.  I just don't accept that being a woman means being docile or subservient or timid or overly emotional or weak.  As for what being a woman means, I would like to see a society where each individual has the freedom to define that for herself.   


According to the OK Cupid "What Kind of Feminist Are You?" quiz, I am a Liberal-Gender feminist.  Surprisingly enough, the results are pretty accurate for a 16 question, confusingly written multiple choice quiz.  I am not sure that I agree that "the concept of gender should be destroyed."  Maybe it's the same thing, but I would say that people should not be bound by gender roles.  Anyway, without further ado, these are my results:

You scored 66% Gender-Abolitionist, 100% Sexually Liberal, and 20 % Socialist

You are the Gender-Liberal. This means that you share qualities with both Liberal Feminists and Gender Abolitionists. Like the Liberal Feminist, you feel political change needs to be done on a small-scale level through legislative change, not necessarily through a massive destruction of class society through the adoption of an extremist socialist stance. You are also very concerned with sexual liberation, and feel that women should be free to do what they please sexually without criticism, just as men should be free to do. However, you differ from the Liberal Feminist culturally, because you see gender as a social construction that needs to be destroyed. Like the Gender Abolitionist, you realize that gender is often perceived as one's identity, when it should only be perceived as a small, insignificant part of that person. We shouldn't be able to say "This person IS a woman". Rather one should say something more akin to "This person HAS the physical traits of a woman". This way, we wouldn't be assuming someone's physical traits are a part of their identity, and we couldn't use this difference to oppress them or categorize them. In short, you advocate extreme cultural change through the destruction of gender roles, but politically you are less extreme, instead focusing on individual or legislative change as opposed to a massive change of ideology.

And apparently this is what I look like:


The Third Carnival of Feminists is up at Sour Duck and it's a doozie.  She pulled together lots and lots and lots of great posts from all over the place.  (My post on The First Sex, which I wrote especially for this Carnival made the cut!)

The NEXT Carnival is going to be HERE on December 7 so please email submissions to veryhappyfeminist@yahoo.com by December 5. 


Yikes.  The deadline to submit a post to the next Carnival of Feminists is today, and the host, Sour Duck, is looking for posts on 1970s feminism. I've had a particular topic in mind for a while but procrastinator that I am, have only just gotten around to it:

During the 70s, one of my mother's favorite books was The First Sex by Elizabeth Gould Davis (published in 1971).  I read it myself in middle school and found it entrancing.  My grandmother (the minister's wife) read it and burst into tears because it convinced her that she had been duped all her life by a patriarchal agenda. 

Presented as an historical work, The First Sex posited a prehistoric matriarchal society in Europe in which women - agriculturists, inventors, artists, queens, and civilizers - were the original leaders of the human race.  According to Davis's theory, a patriarchal revolution then occurred in which nomads from the east invaded the settled queendoms and attempted to destroy all traces of female dominance.  The Old Testament, Davis argued, was a patriarchal rewriting of history that cast old matriarchal deities as villains defeated by the new patriarchal God.  (I seem to remember that the serpent in Genesis was supposed to represent the old matriarchal religion, which was quite serpent-friendly.)  For the remainder of western history, women were conned into believing they were the inferior sex. 

According to Wikipedia, Davis was a librarian, not a professional historian.  When I took a college course on "Feminist Theologies," I learned that Davis's book was not taken seriously by the mainstream academic community.  Some of her theories are indeed laughable -- that women had (on average) physical strength equal to men's until men deliberately started choosing to mate with weaker women, or that the XY chromosomal combination is some sort of abnormal, genetic mutation.  And Davis's conclusions are overly sweeping given that she based them primarily on her reading of mythology and archaelogical evidence that could have multiple possible explanations.  Davis's primary influence today is therefore felt not in the realm of historical scholarship but in the realm of feminist theology and goddess worship.

But, boy oh boy, could Davis write.  Fabulous images of strong, powerful women-- decisive leaders with long flowing hair.  An alternate  reality in which women were not the historically despised and subjugated half of the species.  Davis gave women the tools to imagine that there really could be a society in which the sexes were equal. And, as the saying goes, what can be imagined can be achieved.

Of course, I believe that feminism has to be grounded in reality.  I am not going to subscribe to a belief in a widespread, ancient matriarchy if it was not so.  To insist that a wistful daydream is reality would deprive feminism of its credibility.  As a feminist, I am not afraid of the facts whatever they may be.  While I may secretly enjoy the notion of a long lost matriarchal paradise, my feminism is strong enough to withstand unpleasant truths.  So what if patriarchy was the norm in virtually every society until now?  So what if men have always been the dominant sex?  What can be imagined CAN be achieved, and I fully believe in the capacity of human beings and human societies to change and grow and evolve towards better and more just ways of doing things. 

I still have a dog eared copy The First Sex lying around somewhere, and I wouldn't be above re-reading it, enjoying the enchantment, and sighing a little regretful sigh. What does it stand for in my mind?  It stands for hope and also for my faith in women and my love for women.  But, more importantly, my experience of reading it (and my subsequent disillusionment) stands for the importance of a clear-eyed willingness to seek truth wherever it may take us and to work from there. 

(UPDATE:  I should clarify that I certainly would not think wistfully of a female dominated society for its own sake.  A female dominated society is not the  goal of feminism.  But, during the '70s, the notion of a  female dominated society in the past made the possibility of an equal society in the future seem like a more realistic possibility.)

(SECOND UPDATE:  Based on Morgaine's comments, I would also note that I am not discounting Davis's overarching theory.  The main point is that feminism is the way to go even if Davis turns out to be wrong.)


Opinionista has written a savagely funny post about the poor treatment she received when one of her firm's partners mistook her for a secretary.   (The name of the post is "Perception" dated November 10.)

The Women's Bar Association in my state, of which I am not a member, constantly makes a big deal in the Bar publication and elsewhere regarding the issue of women attorneys being mistaken for secretaries.  I don't worry that much about it. When I call someone new I usually identify myself as, "Hi, My name is Happy Feminist, and I'm an attorney working with so-and-so on the such-and-such case . . . " Women attorneys are generally treated with respect once it becomes clear that they are in fact attorneys.

What's more disturbing is the poor treatment received by secretaries and other women in service positions.  Just because someone is there to support another person's work does not mean that she should be treated like a slave, a moron, or a piece of furniture.  When I did temp secretarial work during my college years, it was amazing how many people seemed to think it was okay to either hit on me or treat me like crap.  I suspect waitresses, flight attendants, nurses, and other women support workers go through the same thing. (Men in similar positions are probably treated that way as well, although I suspect that a grumpy bully is more likely to pick on a woman than a man.)


After getting home at nearly 9 p.m. last night, I was pretty excited to find my copy of "Time" magazine waiting for me with a cover story called "The Secrets of Ambition," featuring a drawing of a pantsuit clad woman carrying a briefcase and stepping over some skyscrapers.  As an unabashedly ambitious woman myself, I immediately tore into it. 

Of course,  it turns out (according to the article) that women aren't really ambitious at all except for having babies.  Excerpts from the article are in italics:

Both research findings and everyday experience suggest that women's ambitions express themselves differently from men's . . .

Ding! Ding! Ding!  Of course, that will mean that women don't really want to succeed in the workplace, just at home.  We don't care if we actually get paid or have any prestige.

Economists Lise Vesterlund of the University of Pittsburgh and Muriel Niederle of Stanford University conducted a study in which they assembled 40 men and 40 women, gave them five minutes to add up as many two-digit numbers as they could, and paid them 50 cents for each correct answer.  The subjects were not competing against one another but simply playing against the house.  Later, the game was changed to a tournament in which the subjects were divided into two teams of two men or two women each.  Winning teams got $2 per computation; losers got nothing.  Men and women performed equally in both tests but, on the third round, when asked to choose which of the two ways they wanted to play, only 35% of the women opted for the tournament format; 75% of the men did.

And obviously a sample of 80 people will tell us everything we need to know about the inherent nature of men and women.  And, of course, being competitive in a math quiz that has no relation to the rest of one's life is the exact same thing as being ambitious.

"Men and women just differ in their apetite for competition," says Vesterlund.  "There seems to be a dislike for it among women and a preference among men."

Well, of course, the impact of socialization, in which boys are steered towards competitive sports and girls are discouraged from being anything but "nice," is a key factor, right? And we shouldn't forget the competitive drive of the 14 out of 40 women who chose the competitive option in the study, right? Right?

As with so much viewed through the lens of anthropology, the roots of these differences lie in animal and human mating strategies. 

Oh, of course . . .

Males are built to go for quick competitive reproductive hits and move on.  Women are built for the it-takes-a-village life, in which they provide long term care to a very few young and must sail them safely into an often hostile world . . .

Not a word about culture or socialization, because of course cultural expectations have no impact on how we act, nor are there any differences in how men and women are socialized to behave.  How silly of me to think otherwise.

It's not that women aren't ambitious enough to compete for what they want; it's that they're more selective about when they engage in competition; they're willing to get ahead at high cost but not at any cost.  . . Import such tendencies into the 21st century workplace, and you get women who are plenty able to compete ferociously but are inclined to do it in teams and to split the difference if they don't get everything they want . . .

In other words, women are not as competitive men.  (At least there is some recognition in the article that not wanting to compete at a math quiz for pocket change is not the same thing as not caring whether you succeed at work.)

And mothers who appear unwilling to strive and quit the workplace altogether to raise their kids?

Obviously, any woman who becomes a stay-at-home-mother is simply "unwilling to strive." Her choice has nothing to do with religious or cultural beliefs, or economic necessity.

[Sarah Blaffer] Hrdy [emiritus professor of anthropology at the University of California, Davis] believes they are competing for the most enduring stakes of all, putting aside their near-term goals to ensure the long-term success of their line.  [plug in example of woman who sacrificed opportunity for plum White House job in order to be a stay-at-home-mom].

Oh yes, women are "ambitious" but they're just not ambitious for the same things that men are like boring old money, power and prestige.  I'm so glad "Time" has cleared that up for all of us. 


Redneck Mother, in a brilliant post, details her six pregnancies, including four miscarriages.  (When she isn't blogging, she is busy "raising lettuce, children and hell in Texas.")  She argues:

I think about all this in the context of pharmacists presuming to tell women whether they can prevent a pregnancy or not, of legislators trying to ban "unauthorized reproduction," of Sam Alito and all the other conservatives who want women to answer to men about what's going on in their own bodies. And I say this: You have no idea what you're trying to control, no right to do it and no way to do it to your misguided satisfaction anyway because women are not machines and reproduction is not an industrial process. Pregnancy is unpredictable, carries infinitely variable risks, and is so private that it is in many ways a closed book even to the woman herself. If she and her obstetrical team can't shoehorn it into neat, predictable processes, why do you presume you can? No one has the right or authority to compel any woman to go through what I chose for myself, and no one has the right to judge any woman for choosing not to do so.

As I have confessed to Zan in a prior comments thread, I am not a hundred percent certain when I think the line should be drawn on abortion.  I don't know whether Roe drew the line in the right place.  But I do support EC, RU48, contraception, and early abortion, and Redneck Mother's observations help illustrate why:  pregnancy clearly takes a toll in and of itself apart from the obligation to care for a child and I have no right to dictate that other women undergo this process involuntarily.


I have been conversing for several weeks with very conservative women on Crystal's blog because I have been struggling to understand why any woman would ever be opposed to the notion of equal rights for women.  A couple of women have commented that they feel that feminism belittles their role as homemaker. 

It kind of makes sense.  When I was growing up, feminism promised to "liberate" women from their destiny as "housewives." Little girls were taught to aspire to something more than being "just" a housewife.  It is no wonder that women who had devoted their lives to husband and children and home felt belittled by the movement!

Even my own feminist-thinking homemaker mother had trouble when Gloria Steinem was invited to dinner at our house. (Steinem and my parents had a close mutual friend.)  My mother literally made herself sick with dread at the idea of cooking and cleaning and waiting on Gloria Steinem.  My mother believed that Steinem would be judging my mother's role and my mother's marriage with a critical eye, and was hugely relieved when Steinem sent her regrets. 

Today large numbers of women in the U.S. are still homemakers and stay-at-home mothers -- whether by choice, necessity, socialization or religion.  And I bet a great many of them still think that feminism is hostile to them.  As a feminist, the last thing I want to do is to make another woman feel "less than" just because she has made different choices than I have.  But it is a tough balance to strike.  On the one hand, I want to make sure that our society remains one that does not force women to become stay-at-home-mothers.  I want equal pay, equal leave provisions, legal protection from discrimination, legal protection from sexual harassment, and access to reliable contraception.  I want to see women welcomed into every profession and every position of power from factory foreman to the U.S. presidency.  I would like to see little girls socialized to be strong and independent.  And I would love it if traditionalist women would also support these feminist goals. The difficulty is that articulating these goals almost comes across as a slam of traditional homemaking.  One inevitably is asked why homemaking isn't "good enough." 

This is a major PR problem for modern feminism.  I suppose the solution is to present it as a matter of freedom and choice:  No one will stop you from choosing a traditional role.  Please don't put barriers in front of women who aspire to less traditional ambitions.  I also think that ensuring a wealth of options for women will help homemaking to be seen as a truly voluntary choice, and thus more worthy of esteem than the forced servitude it is often now perceived as. 

This website, The Feminist Homemakers webpage, has some interesting perspectives, including among other things, a description of feminist defenses of homemaking:

Feminists have done a good job of calling attention to the fact that male culture has devalued the work of women in our homes. Feminist economists have pointed out the invisibility of this labor in traditional economic theories. Cultural feminists have chronicled the immense labor and artistic value in many homemaking projects such as quilting. Political feminists have called for men to fully participate in the domestic world just as women have increased our participation in the work world.


The November 7 issue of "People" Magazine features the story of Mary Bichanich, a 50-year old stay-at-home mother of five.  Last summer, she found herself in the middle of terrible storm on Little Muskego Lake in Wisconsin, with 60 mph winds and lightning all around.  As she was escaping to safety, she saw an enormous wave capsize two weed-cutting barges, throwing four workers into the water.  Lightning bolts were striking within 50 feet of the workers and there was a danger that the water would wash the workers into the blades.

Bichanich called 911 and her husband, who told her to wait for help.  But Bichanich knew there was no time to lose.  She steered her speedboat towards the workers -- through the pounding rain, the powerful waves and the lightning striking around her.  She got the four workers and took them to shore.  As one of the workers, Andy Link, age 19, said, "She's a very courageous woman.  She put herself out there when she didn't have to.  I mean, her boat could have capsized too."  The article features a picture of Bichanich with a couple of the people she rescued, two strapping young men named Craig Planton and Andy Link.

In the wake of 9/11, there was much talk of how the self-sacrifice of the firefighters and of folks like Todd Beamer proved the value of a forgotten masculinity.  This masculinity is characterized by a self-sacrificing physical courage employed on behalf of the weak.  I believe strongly in that traditionally masculine virtue.  I won't deny that the majority of firefighters who died in 9/11 were men.  Nor will I deny that men, because they tend to be significantly larger and stronger, are often in a better position than women to exercise this type of virtue. 

But men do not have a monopoly on heroism, nor do examples of male heroism justify exaltation of the male sex at the expense of the female sex.  Anyone at any time may find himself or herself in a position to help someone weaker.  Craig Planton and Andy Link were weaker than Mary Bichanich during that summer storm because they were in the water and she had a boat.  If I were on a sinking ship or in a burning building, it would be my job to protect my husband because he has a disability and I do not.  If I were being snatched off the street by a mad rapist, however, I would certainly appreciate it if a big strong man (or perhaps a big strong woman or a woman with a gun!) were to rescue me.   

Contrary to the myths of conservative anti-feminists, the rise of feminism will not lead inexorably to the death of heroism and chivalry.  Ordinary people like Mary Bichanich and Todd Beamer of 9/11 fame will continue to act in extraordinary ways when the situation calls for it.  But heroism and chivalry know no gender.  I think we would all do well to imagine how we would act if confronted with a situation requiring physical courage, and to teach our children to do the same, regardless of gender. 


I am feeling frivolous this morning, so I thought I would direct y'all to the trailer of an amusing little tidbit of misogyny, a movie called Monstrous Regiment of Women, shown recently at the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival (sponsored by Vision Forum Ministries).  The title, if I recall my history correctly, comes from Scottish clergyman John Knox's 16th Century diatribe against the rulership of Elizabeth I of England and Mary Queen of Scots. 

The funny thing is that it seems more like a take-off of anti-feminism than anything.  The best part is at the end when the trailer declares triumphantly that the movie is "Rated M for Misogyny," thus completely belying the notion that this type of Christian anti-feminism is about elevating women.  As I pointed out in the comments section of the film's website, "misogyny" means "HATRED of women."  The remainder of my exchange with the filmmakers in the comments sections went something like:

    Filmmakers:  No, feminism is the hatred of women.

    Me: You're the ones saying your own film is "misogyny."

    Filmmakers:  No, we don't hate women.  Feminism hates women.

    Me: But you're the ones using the word "misogyny" to describe your own film.  I assume you knew what "misogyny" meant when you decided to display the word so prominently in your trailer.

My exchanges with the filmmakers have since been deleted from the website.  The "monstrous regiment" also apparently includes (gasp) "The View." 

(UPDATE:  Apparently, I was mistaken in that this movie is not complete.  It is still in pre-production.  They are looking for feminists in the central Texas area to star in it.  Any takers?)

(ANOTHER UPDATE:  Crystal tells me that the "Rate M for Misogyny" is a reference to the alleged misogyny of the feminist movement.   I have to say I'm skeptical.  It's pretty hard not to view the trailer itself as intentionally misogynistic given the reference to a "monstrous regiment," depictions of snarling women fighting each other, and the list of women's names at the end.)


When I was the Deputy D.A. of my county, I was a big fish in a small pond.  I appeared in the same courts every day.  The judges and court personnel all knew me, as did the opposing lawyers.  I think I was well respected.  I’ve been told that my reputation was “fair, competent, and unafraid to try a case.” Also “stubborn and annoying” and “she has a friendly smile but she’ll screw you to the wall in trial.”  (The last one’s a little crude but I kind of like it.)  After I tried a number of cases, even some of the judges began to defer to my opinion on how cases should be run.

In addition, because of my position, I had power -- power to determine whether to bring criminal charges against a citizen, to decide what charges should  be brought, to recommend a particular sentence, and to set policy for how others in my office would make those types of decisions.  Obviously, there were limits on this power and I don’t want to overstate it, but it was power nonetheless.  Every day, I fielded numerous phone calls, letters, and in-person visits from people who wanted me to exercise my power in different ways.  These “supplicants” (as one of my colleagues jokingly called them) included victims, defense attorneys, probation officers, police officers, members of the public, the press, and others.

Obviously power corrupts.  I did my best to make sure that I was not becoming heavy handed or unreasonable or cocky. I like to think that I exercised the power I had fairly, but I am sure some people would disagree.  You can’t please all the people all the time.  

I enjoyed learning how to wield power, but with power comes responsibility-- and sometimes strain.  I learned how to listen to various people arguing vociferously for differing courses of action, decide what information was relevant and what could be discounted, apply my principles and values (within the limits of the law obviously), and then act decisively, prepared for the consequences.  I learned how to sleep well at night and take care of myself, even though I was making decisions with sometimes momentous consequences in people’s lives. 

One of the biggest effects my position had on me was on my bearing.  I don’t think I ever became officious or obnoxious (like so many prosecutors) but I definitely walked taller and spoke more forcefully once I got used to my position.  I took it for granted that people, including judges, would listen deferentially to whatever I would say.  Once you develop that level of confidence, it’s hard to remember what it was like to be a brand new attorney who does not know where to stand or how to act.

But three years ago I acted on my craving for a larger pond and chose to become just another youngish lawyer in a large citified law firm (albeit a youngish lawyer with more trial experience than most).  I am not in court as much any more because civil litigators go to court far less often than criminal lawyers.  When I do go to court, I am often interacting with lawyers and judges who don’t know me.  Just this morning at a routine scheduling conference, I was the baby in a group of five other lawyers (all over 60) and a judge I didn’t know.  She (the judge) turned to me with a saccharine smile and said, “So are you a new member of the bar?”

A wierd thing happened then:  I immediately felt transported back to when I was a brand new member the bar.  All of those long buried feelings of uncertainty came rushing back to me.  I was a little quieter than usual during the conference and, when I did speak up, I did so with a less authoritative manner than usual.  It brought home to me what I’ve always believed -- that we instinctively act in conformity with how others expect us to act.       

As a deputy D.A., I was expected to act authoritatively because of the position I held and the respect I had earned.  So I acted authoritatively.  Today, as a younger lawyer no one had ever met before, I was expected to act less authoritatively because of my age and presumed lack of experience.  So I instinctively acted less authoritatively.

I am really rambling now and I didn’t mean to turn this into a feminist post, but of course, it now occurs to me how this idea plays into feminism-- are women naturally diffident and shy and uncertain (I think not) or do we often act that way because that has been the expectation of us since we were born? 


Wow.  I am pretty excited to be linked on the second carnival of feminists.  It feels awfully nice to be included in the same company as some wonderful bloggers I've been reading for months and months.  So a big thank you to whomever nominated my post and, of course to Natalie at Philobiblion for starting the carnival and to Personal Political for hosting this one.  I can't wait to sit down with a drink tonight and read all the great posts!


I am very stressed out today due to work issues, so I thought I would tackle a light hearted subject -- dating etiquette.  The following tips are framed in heterosexual terms because they are meant to help clear up the confusion arising from the evolution away from traditional heterosexual dating practices, but they can certainly apply to same-sex couples as well.

1. Either party can initiate the date.  I encourage women to take the initiative.  Sure, you risk the embarrassment of being rejected but you may be surprised at how flattered and pleased the man turns out to be.  Ane even if he doesn't go out with you, you have at least taken matters into your own hands rather than waiting around hoping to be noticed.

2. When you ask someone out, be specific as to when the proposed date is to occur.  It is correct to ask "Do you want to go to a movie on Thursday night?"  NOT: "Do you want to go to a movie sometime?"  The problem with the invitation to go out "sometime" is that you put the other person in the position of possibly having to say, "No, I NEVER want to go out with you."  If you choose a specific time, the person can say, "No, I have other plans Thursday night."  That answer is far less embarrassing both for you and the other person.

3. If you ask a person out twice, and that person says no both times, stop asking.  (Maybe you can push it to three times but after that, basta.)  If the other person wants to go out with you, he or she can always say, "Well, I can't make it Thursday but how about Saturday?"  If someone keeps telling you no, respect that person's autonomy and back off.

4. Whoever initiates the date pays.  If the woman asks, she pays.  The invitee, male or female, may make a gesture towards paying but the invitor should insist on footing the bill.  The invitee should gracefully allow the invitor to pay even if the invitee is a man and the invitor is a woman.  A man who insists on paying when the woman did the inviting is (in the words of Leon Kass) essentially insisting that the date occur on his terms.

5. What about gestures of chivalry by the man, such as opening the door for the woman?  Either way, whatever makes the man more comfortable, is fine. The key question the woman should be asking herself, however, is not: "Is he willing to engage in symbolic gestures of chivalry?" but "Does he appear to respect my opinions, my interests, and my autonomy?"


Although she died when I was very small, I have always felt a strong sense of kinship to my Jewish grandmother, to whom I bear a strong physical resemblance.  She was born at the turn of the century to immigrants from Eastern Europe, and grew up in poverty.  After her father died, she and her mother and siblings moved in with her aunt and uncle.  During this time, my grandmother became best friends with another little girl who was her first cousin. 

In early adolescence, before even World War I, my grandmother and her cousin (whom I called "aunt") made a feminist pact. They wanted to pursue ambitious careers and they decided that they would therefore never marry or have children.  They duly graduated from women's colleges during the early '20s.  My grandmother pursued advanced studies in the sciences and became a lab assistant at a well-known women's college.  My aunt went to law school. 

In the blunt parlance of the era, my grandmother was "the pretty one" and my aunt was "the homely one."  When my grandmother was nearly 30, she was pursued by my grandfather and married him.  By that time, she was an avid advocate of birth control.  My grandparents intentionally remained childless while they taught high school, pursued graduate studies, and hobnobbed with a wide circle of friends all of whom had an artistic or intellectual bent.  At age 40, right at the time the U.S. became involved in World War II, my grandmother became pregnant with her only child (my father).  My grandfather went off to war (in a non-combatant role as he was already middle aged, although the fact that he was in a desk job didn't stop him from posing triumphantly in uniform next to a downed German airplane).  My grandmother worked during my father's early years to support the war effort, but as soon as the war ended, she gave up her professional ambitions to become a full time mother.  There was no notion of women having it all in those days. 

Nonetheless, my grandmother passed her feminist beliefs along to my father, who absorbed them in theory (although not necessarily in practice!) As a scientist, my grandmother was particularly opposed to any efforts to hide the facts about sex from children and young adults.  My father, as a child, was forever getting in trouble for explaining "the facts of life" to the other children in school.  I myself was taught the mechanics of sex and the proper names for body parts as a toddler (although I didn't quite absorb or understand it all at that age). 

Meanwhile, my aunt never married and was thus able to pursue her beloved career full force. She was unable to find a job in private practice (natch) so like many women attorneys of the era, she worked for the government.  She became a very well known appellate attorney who frequently argued before the United States Supreme Court from the 1950s through the early 70s.  She was the darling of conservative (!) circles for many years, and according to family lore (which tends to exaggerate the accomplishments of its members), she was on President Nixon's short list for a Supreme Court nomination herself.

I only met my aunt (now deceased) a couple of times during my childhood. My memory is of a very petite woman with a pinched face and a thick New York accent.  She patted me on the head and said I was really cute.  (Aaargh, if only I could sit down and talk to her now!) But the story of her accomplishments was an anchor for me when I was an ambitious little girl in a community with no professional women. 

The prevalent feminism of this side of my family had a huge influence on me growing up.  As far as religion, my grandmother was brought up Jewish.  By the time, she reached her 20s, however, she was no longer practicing.  She apparently had no qualms about marrying my non-Jewish grandfather, who was also from a religious minority, a Protestant from a predominantly Catholic ethnic group.  My father was brought up without belonging to any organized religion.  My grandmother, however, often talked to him about God wanting him to do what's right.  She used words like "covenant" and "atonement" and never referred to Jesus.  She talked  a lot about how racial segregation in the South was upsetting to God. She contributed large sums to animal humane societies, which she also said was pleasing to God.

When I was growing up, I learned a lot of Jewish history from my father and from books he gave me to read on the topic. I always tended to perhaps overly romanticize Jewish history and culture and religion.  I know that the Jews do not have a monopoly on rationalism, progressive politics, or love of books, but I have always felt that somehow those things came into my life through my personal, albeit attenuated, connection to Judaism (although my mother certainly contributed to my love of reading as well).  No one who meets me would ever think that I have any Jewish heritage because my name is clearly not Jewish; I am quite saddened by this fact and often wish that my Jewish heritage was more apparent to others, because it is, rationally or not, an important part of my sense of self.


As I have mentioned previously, I am of mixed religious and ethnic heritage.  My mother was raised in a devout mainline Protestant family.  Her six uncles, her grandfather, her great grandfather, and her great-great-grandfather were ministers. Most of her cousins became ministers or missionaries.   At 18, circa 1958, my mother was herself engaged to a young man who was about to enter a seminary (a seminary which was founded by her great-great-grandfather). 

One day, my mother, without telling anyone, responded to an advertisement for a secretarial job in a far away city.  When she was hired, she broke off her engagement and told her parents that she was moving out of the house to a city hundreds of miles away.  My mother's parents were up in arms, of course, but there was nothing they could do.

My mother says that at the time her decision resulted from "a single moment of clarity."  She woke up one morning knowing that she was not cut out to be a preacher's wife. In retrospect, however, she says that, although she never exactly admitted it to herself, she never appreciated the social norms imposed on her.  Outwardly, by the standards of her time and place, she was the perfect model of young womanhood.  Inwardly, she resented the fact that the family's college tuition funds were reserved for her brother (who was, unlike her, an indifferent student) and she was always skeptical of her family's belief system.  Even now, she is not very respectful of Christianity.  She associates it with hypocrisy and with men telling women how to be.  She especially dislikes Paul and Proverbs 31.

Other than my mother's departure from home, she never broke out of the gender norms with which she was raised.  She relished the single life for a full twelve years, during which she worked, shared apartments with various girlfriends, traveled throughout Europe, dated, and had fun.  But she always expected to become primarily a wife and mother by the end of her 20s and so she did.  She quit her job upon marriage and I was born a year later.

Despite my mother's scorn for Proverbs 31 (which she can recite by heart!), she actually was the ideal Proverbs 31 woman when I was growing up.  She was truly a marvelous homemaker.  She was very frugal, yet we always had the best of everything.  The house was always spotless, and there was a fabulous meal on the table every night.  I had wonderful clothes which my mother made from patterns.  My mother performed back breaking manual labor in the fields, landscaping our two acre property, mowing the whole thing with a push-lawn mower, and creating and maintaining a fabulous vegetable and flower garden.   She also kept herself fit and trim by long distance running, and she was always beautifully dressed even for mundane errands like grocery shopping.  People used to ooh and aah at how glamorous and beautiful my mother was.

My mother was also a great teacher to me.  She didn't purposely set out to push me in  any kind of formal way, but she made learning fun.  I loved it when she read to me, and I begged her to teach me how to read.  She was extremely patient with me as I tried to sound out the words, but the payoff came when I suddenly "got it."  Once I became a fluent reader, we frequently read chapter books out loud to each other, alternating chapter by chapter.  We read Heidi, A Child's History of England by Charles Dickens, The Children's Crusade by Geoffrey Trease, Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, and Dracula, among others. 

After school, if we weren't reading, we often played board games or danced around to music (I remember Kenny Rogers's "The Gambler" in particular).  My mother also imbued me with her aesthetic sense -- I developed an early appreciation for Elizabethan music, the Beatles, Joan Baez, hymns by Martin Luther, medieval woodcuts, Audrey Hepburn (her fashion and her movies), and the King James Bible, among various other things she liked. 

My mother and I have never once had a fight, nor do I recall her ever speaking sharply to me, except on a couple of occasions after which she apologized to me (and I to her because the sharp language was clearly warranted).  I always wanted to please her.

My mother was perceived by the larger community as "a perfect lady" (in the words of one of my teachers).  My mother's near perfection would have been unbearable, but for another wonderful aspect of her personality: my mother is one of the most irreverent people I have ever met.  Most people don't know this but, in the privacy of home, she swears with relish and often with great wit.  She also has a talent for great, Dorothy Parker-like zingers.  Whenever I recounted something nasty someone said to me, she would always have the perfect comeback right away.  The fact that her irreverence is so unexpected from someone of her ladylike exterior makes it all the funnier.  She can invariably make me laugh so hard I can't control myself.

I started off this entry musing about the impact my Protestant heritage may have had on me, but somehow this entry turned into a tribute to my mother. I will say that I think my roots, stemming from a midwestern minister's family, have imbued me, via my mother, with a "nice girl" persona that I have never quite been able to shake.  I used to get upset if a date compared me to Donna Reed, or if someone assumed I would be offended by a dirty joke.  But in my maturity, I have resigned myself to my "niceness," and have learned to think of it as an aspect of myself that connects me to my mother, despite the differences in our life histories. 

(UPDATE:   I should point out that I do not share my mother's lack of respect for Christianity.  Although I am not Christian, I understand the theology and I am able to separate the theology from the less desirable aspects of my mother's upbringing.)


Last night I had another dinner with my in-laws-- my husband's parents, his sister and brother-in-law, and their two kids (my niece and nephew).   The conversation turned to my nephew's recent soccer practice.  One boy was struggling with his technique and the other boys taunted him with the epithets "girl" and "ball girl."  The conversation focused on how well the boy had handled the taunting.  He laughed and bowed and made jokes.  No one seemed at all concerned at the use of the word "girl" as a term of ridicule.

I said, "What makes these boys think it's okay to insult girls?"  It was as though a lightbulb went on in my 10-year old niece's head and she (no slouch on the soccer field herself) said, "Hey! That's right!" and everybody laughed. The fact is that even today it is often considered cute and appropriate for young boys to heap scorn and ridicule on the female gender.

Once when my nephew was in kindergarten, he picked up his sister's dolls and started playing with them.  My brother-in-law swooped down, snatched the dolls from my nephew, and said, "You don't want to play with dolls, do you?  That's a toy for girls" (voice dripping with scorn and contempt on the word girls). 

These types of incidents are still so prevalent for children in our culture that people don't even notice it.  As a result, children of both sexes often internalize a belief in the abject inferiority of girls.  It saddens me immeasurably that children are still encouraged to completely dismiss the skills and talents of one-half of the human race and not think anything of it.


Zan posed an excellent question in response to my post about the Target kerfuffle.  She asks why is it a big deal for a woman to have to go across town to another pharmacy to fill her prescription for Emergency Contraception (EC) in order to accommodate the pharmacist’s sincerely held religious belief that it is wrong to dispense EC.  I like this question because it goes right to the heart of the common perception that feminists (especially American feminists!) are merely selfish people with an overweening sense of entitlement. 

This isn’t a personal issue for me at all.  Since my husband and I are unable to conceive, I doubt I will ever have any need for EC or any other form of contraception.  Nonetheless, I take the pharmacy issue seriously for a number of reasons.

For many women, it’s not simply a matter of driving five minutes across town. Out west, in places like Montana and Texas, there are all sorts of tiny little towns surrounded by nothing but empty highway.  There is a significant population of rural women who will be left high and dry if their local pharmacist won’t give them the drugs they need. 

There are also some heavily Christian and conservative parts of the U.S., the so-called “Bible Belt.”  I could conceive of a woman living in an area where none of her local pharmacies will dispense EC.   

The prospect of a national chain declining to provide birth control scares me.  I always used to figure that even if a local Christian pharmacy declined to dispense EC, most women would be able to find their way to a Wal-Mart or some other national store.  That’s why Target’s policy is a big deal.

Many women who buy EC need it because it’s an emergency.  They have made a mistake or they have been raped.  Forcing a panicked woman to run around town trying to find a cooperative pharmacist will only add to whatever trauma she is already experiencing.    (Some have noted that a woman who reports a rape should be able to get EC through her local ER.  But, sadly, many women choose not to report rape.  And what about the ER worker who has a moral objection to providing EC?)

I also hate the idea of women being subject to what Amanda at Pandagon calls “slut shaming.”  There is a history in our culture of shaming women for having sex. There is the scarlet letter, the double standard, the virgin/whore dichotomy.  Allowing pharmacists to decline service to women on the basis of moral objections provides one more avenue for those who would try to shame women. 

I believe that pharmacists and corporations should have the right to take whatever moral position they want.  But, as a consumer, I also have the right to object.  I want to live in a society where women can freely obtain EC whether they are in downtown New York City or rural Idaho.  That’s why the Target issue is a big deal to me: it’s far more than just a matter of one woman having to be momentarily inconvenienced. 


In my post yesterday, I discussed my own positive experience growing up in a sexually liberated era.  But I forgot to mention the number one factor that allowed me to navigate sex and romance as happily as I have --  the fact that by the time I reached my teens I had internalized the messages of feminism.

Because of feminism, it never occurred to me to define myself by my sexual choices.  Because of feminism, it never occurred to me to worry that others might define me by my sexual choices.  Because of feminism, I was not trying to court male approval.  Because of feminism, I felt that I could take a measure of control over my sexual and romantic destiny.  Because of feminism, I felt free to say "no."  Because of feminism, I felt free to say  "yes."  Because of feminism, I had full knowledge of what I had to do to prevent unwanted pregnancy and disease.  Because of feminism, I was fully equipped to make the wisest choices.

It has been trendy in recent years for both liberals and conservatives question whether the current climate of sexual liberation is "good for women." But sexual liberation is not inherently bad for women at all.  The problems for women occur when there is sexual liberation without any change to the prevailing "patriarchal" mindset.  Without feminism, we see girls "going wild" and then regretting it, girls playing to the titillation of men without thinking about their own needs, girls shattered because "he hasn't called." Without feminism, in short, girls cater to male approval without being equipped in any way to insist that their own needs and interests be met.    


While noodling around looking at the stats on visitors to this site, I was very pleased to discover I'd been linked by a feminist blog run by a group of women in Cardiff, Wales.  It's called Mind the Gap!  I am happy to have discovered them for a couple of reasons:

1) The blog has all sorts of interesting posts, plus a lengthy list of both UK and US blogs. 

2) Maybe this shout-out to them will absolve me of my mortifying behavior during the afternoon I spent in Cardiff nearly twelve years ago (to which I alluded in my post entitled Hooray for the U.K.).  (Hint: It involves faggots and peas.)


In an article dated yesterday, Meghan O'Rourke critiques recent statements by older conservative men to the effect that the sexual revolution has made young women "sad, lonely, and confused."  It got me thinking how little these guys know.  I certainly was never sad, lonely, or confused, despite happily taking full advantage of the sexual liberation available to young women of my generation.

At age 18 (approximately 15 years ago) I had zero experience of the opposite sex other than palling around with a number of guys in high school and going to a couple of proms.  I wasn't interested in any of these guys sexually or romantically so I made sure that I was never in a situation where any of them could come on to me in any way.  I just didn't give them the opportunity.  Besides, I was kind of an academic grind so I didn't have time for any nonsense or complications.

By the time my first year of college rolled around, I was wondering what I was missing out on.  That summer, I went out on about a zillion dates to try figure out if there was anyone I liked well enough to become involved with.  I went on a lot of bad dates.  Towards the end of the summer, I became aware of a co-worker at my job who seemed not only good looking but intelligent, funny, and artistic. At 24, he was several years older than I.  Nonetheless, I worked up the courage to ask him to lunch.  He seemed thrilled to be asked.  We had a great time at lunch and he asked me to go bar hopping with him the next night.  I determined in advance that if still liked him by the end of the night, I would ask him back to my parents' apartment (my parents were away) and so I did.  (I actually asked him back for coffee and literally made him coffee.)  In any event, I wound up sleeping with him that night.  (I should point out that we practiced safe sex and contraception, and that I had asked some mutual friends about him to try to assure myself that he wasn't an axe murderer.)

It was great.  I was quite pleased with myself the next morning.  I was well aware that it could have been a one-night thing but it was a positive experience for me, so I didn't mind.  I walked my date to his job the next day.  That night I called him to make plans for the weekend.  We wound up dating each other exclusively for the next three years.  Much later, this guy told me that he had meant to treat that first date as a one-nighter.  He changed his mind because he was amazed and intrigued that I would be confident enough to call him after having slept with him.  (In my naivete at the time, it never occurred to me that I would be expected to mope around by the phone waiting for him to call me.)  

My relationship with this guy was a lot of fun, but we were fundamentally incompatible and I don't think we were ever in love.  I don't think either of us was too heartbroken when the relationship ended.  I then spent two years relishing the single life in England and then in law school.  I went on a lot of dates but never even kissed anyone; there were men I enjoyed being with but with whom I never got to the point of wanting to get physical.

In law school, I became friendly with a neighbor in my student apartment building.  We'd chat in the hallway and we always really clicked.  One day, he asked me to come in for a beer and to watch some TV.  I wound up sleeping with him.  A year later, he asked me to marry him and I said yes.  We have been together for a total of ten years and happily married for seven.  Although I never had marriage on the agenda until my husband proposed, marriage has been an incredibly life-enriching and fulfilling experience for both of us. 

In sum, my sexual and romantic life has been overwhelmingly positive.  I attribute my happiness in this regard to three factors:  (1) dumb luck; (2) good sexual ethics (practicing safe sex, practicing contraception, and respecting my sexual and romantic partners); and (3) the opportunity to make my own choices without shame or negative social consequences.

Now, I don't mean to imply that my behavior was risk-free.  I clearly did take risks, but I chose those risks with my eyes wide open while also taking intelligent measures to reduce those risks. Nonetheless, my birth control could have failed and I could have wound up with a pregnancy for which I was unprepared.  Despite practicing safe sex, I took some risk of contracting a disease.  My partners could have turned out to be dangerous.  In fact, I did endure one negative consequence of my premarital sexual activity.  I contracted HPV which led to a pre-cancerous condition called cervical displasia.  Because I am in the habit of going to the doctor for routine check-ups, it was caught early.  I underwent minor surgery to have the displasia removed.  My doctors advise me that I am in the clear as my displasia has not returned since.  (I understand that there is now a 100% effective vaccine to prevent contraction of current forms of HPV.)

In sum, I have no regrets.  At age 34, I have emerged from my younger adulthood with my pride and dignity intact.  Although I am in a very "respectable" monogomous relationship, I remain grateful to this day that I grew up in an era where I could exercise autonomy and control over my own sexual choices without shame or social stigma. 

(Thank you to Amanda at Pandagon for pointing out the O'Rourke article.  Amanda's own post on this is called "To be truly happy, American women should simply turn into Realdolls."  She demostrates beyond all doubt the insulting nature of the assumption that men won't get married if they are able to get sex outside of marriage.)


Feminists often bemoan the fact that only a small percentage of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.  Women are still, on average, paid less than men in a wide variety of professions.  In the legal profession, women are still very much underrepresented among law firm partners. 

The glass ceiling

The phenomenon of the "glass ceiling" is complex.  It can't be explained by the simple proposition that "men are trying to keep women down," (the stereotyped feminist position).  It can't be explained by the opposing proposition "women aren't as competent as men" (the stereotyped anti-feminist position).  In my view, a lot of it has to do with choices women are socialized to make.  Here are some observations I have made in my professional life:

1) In my state, the significant majority of litigators in private law firms are men.  In the public sector and non-profit world, however, the split is even or possibly female-dominated.

2) In the law firms, where I have practiced, the women seem far less comfortable with marketing (i.e. trying to get new clients) than men. 

3) Women are far, far, far less likely than men to engage in salary negotiations.  This observation is backed up by at least one study, and I'm sure there are many more out there.  The study I found (through a quick Google search) showed that 57% of male Carnegie Mellon graduates surveyed had negotiated their salaries, compared to only 7% of female Carnegie Mellon graduates.

Apparently, women, including self-proclaimed feminists, still tend to be uncomfortable with anything that could be construed as "selfish" or "power mongering" or "arrogant."   My nephew unabashedly tells people that he wants to "make money" when he grows up.  My niece says she wants to "help people." 

My career path

I certainly always fell in the category of wanting to "help people."  I went to law school to become a public defender.  But through various twists and turns, I wound up here at my 100-attorney law firm "making money."   The public defender thing didn't work out because I got married out of law school and I didn't get hired by the public defender program in my husband's home state.  So instead, I "helped people" by working as a prosecutor for five years.  I loved my job but it eventually got to the point where I felt I had mastered it.  I wanted to move to another level and learn something new about how to argue cases in court.  So I got a job in a top-quality boutique litigation firm.  There, I not only learned about civil litigation but I also learned about the business side of the law-- how to run a law firm, how to market one's services, and yes, how to make money.  Much to my surprise, I found that I love all of those things, especially marketing. 

Last spring I was recruited to join another firm, a very difficult and wrenching decision for me.  However, for various reasons too complicated to explain here, it was obvious that joining this new, rather large firm would be the best move for me professionally.  I forced myself to engage (for the first time in my life) in aggressive salary negotiations.  Since arriving at my new firm, I have worked on forging relationships with existing clients, and taking the lead in my practice group's marketing initiatives.  Although I am relatively junior in a large firm top-heavy with partners, I have made sure to present myself as someone who knows what she is doing, and as someone who is ambitious and expects to advance within the firm.   

I never thought that I would find myself thinking this way.  I still don't care that much about money for its own sake (although, of course, I want my family to be comfortable).  It comes down to the fact that I am a person who likes games and strategy and competition.  Trial work satisfies those needs for me, but I have done a ton of trial work already.  Marketing (internally at the firm and externally to clients) also meets those needs.  I find it immensely satisfying for its own sake -- the thrill of the chase, I guess. 

Where feminism comes in

So where does feminism come in?  It comes in because I have had to struggle a lot against an ingrained sense that it is wrong, or even dangerous, for me to present myself in a light that is "selfish" or "arrogant" or "aggressive."  Although I have engaged in negotiations zillions of times on behalf of other people, negotiating my OWN salary went severely against the grain.  It seemed somehow wrong to demand anything on my own  behalf or to trumpet my own accomplishments and potential worth to the firm.  I really didn't even have the social vocabulary to do so. 

Nonetheless,  I forced myself to negotiate my own salary even though it would have been easier to simply accept what was offered. Doing so was, for lack of a better term, "empowering."   I have also found ways to let my supervisors and clients know about my accomplishments and my abilities.  I have learned the importance of projecting confidence.       

I am motivated by the love of my job, my competitive spirit, and yes, oh yes, the money, too.  But it also means something to me that I am doing something that goes against the grain of how I was socialized, something that is still to this day somewhat contrary to the expectations for women.  In fact, I would have given in on the salary negotiations but for the fact that I did not want to feed into the common perception among employers that women don't ask for more. 

Maybe this sounds awfully self-congratulary (well, who cares, it's an anonymous blog!), but I think that aggressively positioning myself to be economically successful is a feminist act.  Yes, making money benefits me personally.  But it also is one more (small) way to defeat the still pervasive stereotype of women as shrinking violets who will not stand up for themselves in the world of business. 


So I watched the third episode of "Commander in Chief,"  the TV drama about the first female president of the United States, played by Geena Davis.  I figured out I should check it out the gender issues since I'm now a feminist blogger.  But now I'm hooked just because it is a good drama.   Some things about it bother me, however.

The problem is that Geena Davis character is fulfilling all the worst stereotypes of how a woman would make policy.  What policy decisions has she made so far?  Well, she reorganized the Sixth Fleet and threatened Nigeria with war in order to save a woman from being stoned.  And she intentionally and impulsively jeopardized a slew of carefully negotiated trade and economic agreements with the President of Russia by an ill-timed demand that he free dissident journalists in his country.   She is fulfilling the stereotype of a woman who acts from nurturing emotionalism rather than a broad view of what is best for the United States.  Now, I am passionately in favor human rights and I think presidents should take tough stands on those issues.  But I wish we could see more evidence that she is considering the bigger picture, or that she were making other types of policy decisions.  (Of course, a trade negotiation wouldn't make good primetime drama, but still the portrayal seems to play into problematic assumptions of how a woman president would conduct herself.)

Other observations:

-- Davis comments that she shouldn't eat too much for breakfast for fear of not fitting into her dress that night.  Two minutes later she is expressing (albeit playfully) a concern about her husband spending too much time with the beautiful First Lady of Russia.

-- Davis tells the Senate Majority Leader that she is "not interested in power."  Aaaaah!  Why do women heroines always have to not be interested in power?


Hugo put up a terrific post today about how his Christian faith and his feminism mutually reinforce each other.  Although I am not a Christian, I am very interested in the prevalent misunderstandings between Christians and secular feminists, which Hugo also discusses.  This line from his post strick me in particular: "Too many Christians see feminism as a rights-obsessed ideology that emphasizes individual happiness at the expense of communal obligations." 

My feminism is a rights-obsessed ideology that emphasizes individual happiness.  It's the part about "communal obligations" that gets tricky.  In ordinary terms this is the deep prejudice common in certain quarters that feminists are "selfish." 

Part of me bristles at having to address this misconception of "selfishness."  After all, men don't generally have to prove a lack of selfishness in order to enjoy status, rights, and opportunities.  Why should women have to bend over backwards to slavishly prove that they are good mothers or that they are "unselfish" in order to enjoy the same privileges men take for granted? 

The other part of me realizes that the "selfishness" issue is a major stumbling block for a lot of women.  No one wants to be labeled "selfish" or to think of themselves as "selfish."  And people want to know, well, what are my communal obligations? And what are my roles in my family and community?

I think this a huge question that feminists have not necessarily answered satisfactorily for the public at large.  And part of the problem is that various different strands of feminism surely address the question differently.

My feminism is, I suppose, a libertarian feminism with regard to this question.  I would not presume to impose obligations on people other than the obligations owed by all citizens of a republic or democracy.  And I believe people do not have to abandon other belief systems (such as Christianity) in order to be feminists.  Personally, I take very seriously what I view as my moral obligation to make a contribution, but I choose to do it in the context of my job, volunteer work (admittedly a new thing for me, more on that later), and an egalitarian marriage.  I also feel strongly that I have an obligation to take advantage of the rights and opportunities for which previous generations worked so hard, and to do what I can to ensure that other women have the same.

I may not define my obligations in terms of being a mother or primarily in terms of being a wife (although trying to be a good wife is a huge part), but that is not the same thing as rejecting the notion of communal obligations.  The trick is how to communicate this vision to the public at large.  These complex questions cannot be easily boiled down to a simple sound bite that counters the opposing sound bite of "feminists - selfish."    


As some of you already know, a blog called Philobiblion hosted the First Carnival of Feminists yesterday.  The Carnival is a lengthy post with a round up of links to recent posts by a diverse array of feminist bloggers on a diverse array of topics.  Apparently the plan is for different feminist bloggers host these Carnivals regularly. As a new blogger (see last night's post), I am heartened by this very creative idea. 


In the cold light of morning, last night's post on the issue of day care seems wimpy, wimpy, wimpy. I wrote:  "But I don't have a problem with some degree of parental selfishness when appropriate." I then went on to frame the entire issue in terms of whether the mother's choice to put her child in day care is selfish.  I have to clarify that consideration of the parents' needs is absolutely appropriate and that both parents should bear the burden of figuring out the correct balance between child care, providing for the family, and the parents' non-child related ambitions and needs.

Having a child is profoundly life-changing. Both parents have to subordinate many of their desires and needs to the needs of their child.  But every parent, no matter how devoted, draws a line somewhere.  For example, this new organization that is getting a lot of press, Diaper Free Baby, argues that diapers are not the ideal for children.  (Diaper rash is obviously no fun and I don't think anyone wants to sit in their own waste for even a few minutes.)  So the proponents of this new toilet training method argue that someone (that's right, the mother) should constantly watch the infant for signals of having to poop or piddle.  At the appropriate times, the mother then holds the baby over its own little toilet.  This form of elimination is supposed to be gentler and healthier for the child.  And it probably is.  But I think it would be reasonable for a mother to say, "I am going to risk putting my child through the discomfort of sitting in his own urine for a couple minutes, rather than having to be totally focused on my infant every moment of the day."  Diapers (and certainly prompt diaper changes) are a reasonable method to balance the needs of the child and the needs of the parent. 

My thinking about day care is the same way.  I don't shy away from the study that shows (for example) that a significantly higher percentage of children in longer hour day care show aggression than children in shorter hour day care (although I note that aggressive children are the minority in day care settngs as well).  But I may weigh that risk against the personal needs my husband and I have for our careers, the good our careers do for the family, the good our careers do for the community, and my belief that parents are still the major influence over their children, even when their children spend the day in day care.

Would putting my child in day care be the ideal for him or her?  Maybe not. But it may be the ideal for the health and happiness of my whole family. (I should stress that this is a HYPOTHETICAL child and a HYPOTHETICAL decision.  In the event we were to have a child, my husband and I would have to hash all this stuff out more thoroughly.)

(Thank you to Amanda for her post about the diaper free baby phenomenon.)


With several posts over the last few days, Crystal has created a lot of interesting discussion on her blog regarding day care as a parenting option.  Countless variables influence the wellbeing and happiness of any individual child.  Therefore, I do not believe in black-and-white, one-size-fits-all conclusions about proper childcare. 

Any parent would agree (I am sure) that the wellbeing and happiness of one's children are of the utmost importance.  There is, however, nothing wrong with trying to achieve what is best for both the children and their mother.  For some mothers, staying at home is not what is best.  The small possibility that my (hypothetical) children might develop greater aggression or a weakened maternal bond as a result of day care does not necessarily outweigh the importance of my vocation as an attorney -- particularly since involved parenting can significantly decrease those risks. 

Maybe, this is a selfish view.  But I don't have a problem with some degree of parental selfishness when appropriate.  All too often mothers are expected to sacrifice every fiber of their being for their children when the situation does not call for it.  For example, a mother may be willing to die to protect her child's life.  The same mother may be unwilling to give up a career she loves just because some studies show that day care may not be perfectly ideal (especially since other variables like parental warmth and involvement can overcome these risks).  I would not call that mother unreasonably selfish; I would say that mother struck a sensible balance between her needs and her child's.  Whether such a balance is fair to the child will vary depending on the individual situation, but there are also times when too much maternal sacrifice can be a terrible burden on a child.  I guess what I am trying to say that it is wrong to fault mothers who consider their own needs as well as their chidlren's.

The most balanced article I found is called The Mommy Wars: Why Feminists and Conservative Just Don't Get Modern Motherhood by Cathy Young at Reason On-line.  She trashes BOTH feminists and conservatives for distorting the research and points out the plethora of choices out there (including a nice shout-out to stay-at-home dads).  She also discusses the history of child care, which did not necessarily include constant attention to children.  I don't buy Young's typically libertarian view that market forces will adjust to provide even more child care options, but the article seems to be a tremendous source of information.

Personal note: I benefited enormously from the attention I got from my stay-at-home mom.  She re-entered the work force when I was ten.  I missed her but I was also thrilled for her-- and thrilled for myself, since it provided me an example of another option for women. 


My allusion in my last post to my favorite feminist opinion by Justice Rehnquist whetted Jonathan's curiosity.  The decision is Nevada v. Hibbs (2003).  It pertains to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), which requires states and certain large employers to provide employees (whether male or female) 12 weeks of unpaid leave for various family and medical issues, such as the birth or adoption of a child or the care of a sick relative.  In Hibbs, the Court decided:

           1)   Even though states are usually immune from suit, states can be sued for violating the FMLA.

           2)   The reason is that states can be sued if the federal statute in question is designed to deter and prevent constitutional violations by the state.

          3)    Congress passed the FMLA (in part) to deter and prevent states from violating the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution.

          4)   Specifically, Congress was trying to end gender discrimination by creating gender neutral family leave policies.

What I really liked about the opinion is that it strongly articulates the problems that result for women employees as a result of the pervasive assumption that women always bear the primary burden of family responsibilities.  Rehnquist wrote:

The impact of the discrimination by the FMLA is significant.  Congress determined:

       "Historically, denial or curtailment of women's employment opportunities has been traceable directly to the pervasive presumption that women are mothers first, and workers second.  This prevailing ideology about women's roles has in turn justified discrimination against women when they are mothers or mothers-to-be." Joint Hearing 100.

Stereotypes about women's domestic roles are reinforced by  parallel stereotypes presuming a lack of domestic responsibilties for men.  Because employers continued to regard the family as the woman's domain, they often denied men similar accommodations or discouraged them from taking leave.  These mutually reinforcing stereotypes created a self-fulfilling cycle of discrimination that forced women to continue to assume the role of primary family caregiver, and fostered employers' stereotypical views about women's commitment to work and their value as employees.  These perceptions, in turn, Congress, reasoned lead to subtle discrimination that may be difficult to detect on a case-by-case basis. 

The opinion also recognized that gender based parental leave policies are also damaging to those men who wish to take on child and family care responsibilities.  (Such men are not necessarily a rare breed according to a recent study finding that 79 per cent of U.K. men would be happy to be the full-time caregiver for their children.*)

So there you have it -- Justice Rehnquist may have been conservative, but he was also a feminist (or maybe he was another half Dinosaur, half Feminist.  I hear there may be a few of those running around.) 

*Thank you Gendergeek for the study.


Ugh, more thoughts about femininity and sports.  The more I think about that Ladies Against Feminism article (the one asserting that women should not play sports), the more it amazes me that real flesh-and-blood women exist who are willing to tolerate or espouse the LAF viewpoint.  And I do want to understand so if any of you are reading, I would love to hear from you . . .  But as I think more about those pictures in the article, the more they irritate me. Essentially, the  author (who is a man by the way) is trying to convince women to refrain from sports because it will make them look ugly.  And that argument, is quite frankly, insulting to women.  It assumes that women care more about looking pretty than anything else. 

Now, it is tempting for a Blue Stater like me to dismiss this as a crackpot attitude, but it reminded of an incident with my own father when I had just graduated from college. (Remember, I posted earlier about the fact that he is half Feminist and half Dinosaur.)  I was packing an enormous duffelbag because I was planning to move to the UK and Ireland for 10 months.  My father was insistently trying to persuade me that I should pack less and he was even getting a little hot under the collar about it.  Finally, he said, "You know, boys find it very unattractive to see a girl lugging enormous bags."  There it was -- the same argument as in the LAF article!  I immediately told him that it was more important for me to have the things I need for the next 10 months than to try to look perfectly attractive to boys I don't know in the airport.  (And then I admit it, I fumed silently about his comment for the whole ride to the airport.)

In a related note, Jodie notes the strangeness of anyone coming out against women's sports in a country that has such an obesity problem.  In fairness, though, I think that Christian conservatives (including ultra-conservative Biblical patriarchs) believe that maintaining bodily health is important.  The idea is that God entrusted our bodies (His creation) to us and it is our obligation therefore to care for our bodies.  The people who come out against women's sports merely believe in lighter exercise for women (like housework, I'm not kidding!), plus healthful eating.  I don't agree, but part of the purpose of this blog is to try to understand the logic.


Sine this post is dedicated in part to fostering understanding between feminists and social conservatives, I thought I would highlight a blog called Feminist Mormon Housewives (which I found on Hugo's blog).  These women are the real deal -- they're feminists, they're Mormons, and they're housewives!  Their very existence underscores my point that you really can't stereotype feminists and you really can't stereotype housewives.  Plus they have the best blog name ever.

I also have added a link to David Allen's site.  He's the guy who wrote Getting Things Done, and he has a ton of great tips for organization and time management that I think apply to both office and at-home workers. 

Also, if you didn't have a chance to check in this weekend, take a peek at my three posts on femininity and women engaging in traditionally masculine contact sports like football.


There are SO many things swirling around in my head that I went to put up on this blog, but I think I had better take yesterday's two part series on women in football to its logical conclusion.  Yesterday I opined that vigorous, competitive athletics, including even traditionally masculine sports like football, are NOT incompatible with femininity.  Of course, that means I ought to clarify my view of what femininity means. 

This is an important topic.  Many women shy away from feminism because they believe that it is "un-feminine."  I have heard people say that feminists want women to look like men or that feminists want women to look as unattractive as possible.  But that is far from the case. 

I tend to present myself in a feminine style.  At work, I typically wear dresses (sometimes even flowered dresses!) and long skirts, with very high heels, pearls, blazers, and make-up.  But to me, femininity is just that -- a style.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with it.  I think it will continue to fluorish as a style.  It is a style that often enhances the attraction between the sexes.  But, in my view, femininity is neither a sacred obligation nor a persona I adopt to make my husband feel bigger and stronger than he already is. 

Certainly, feminists have dissected the concept of femininity, pointing out both negative and positive aspects.  Feminist writer Susan Brownmiller said it best:  "Femininity, in essence, is a romantic sentiment, a nostalgic tradition of imposed limitations . . . Femininity always demands more.  It must constantly reassure its audience by a willing demonstration of difference [from men], even when one does not exist in nature, or it must seize and embrace a natural variation and compose a rhapsodic symphony upon the notes."

Brownmiller also pointed out the positive side of femininity, the primary reason most women do not want to abandon it: "We are talking . . . about an exquisite esthetic.  Enormous pleasure can be extracted from feminine pursuits as a creative outlet or purely as relaxation; indeed, indulgence for the sake of fun, or art, or attention, is among femininity's great joys."

In sum, my message about femininity is that it is not at all inconsistent with feminism as long as you understand femininity as an aesthetic that you can cast off when it is inconsistent with something you want to accomplish (like playing in a rugby game or landscaping your yard).  Feminism has nothing against "feminine loveliness" but it does eschew the notion that women should limit themselves or their opportunities simply for the purpose of creating, exaggerating, or reinforcing distinctions between the sexes.

(I also have to admit that it's kind of fun to conduct a deservedly searing cross-examination of a hapless witness while I am wearing a flowered dress and a butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth expression.  One advantage of a feminine persona can be the element of surprise!)


My last post on Title IX as it relates to contact sports was meant to be educational -- a report on what the law is, rather than what it should be.  Clearly, however, I am enamored of the notion of women playing contact sports.  There is really no good physical reason I can think of why women couldn't or shouldn't play tackle football, or any other sport, in women's leagues.  Football is a fun game and there are women out there who want to play.  So good for them for playing!  Good for them for pursuing their interest in a great all-American sport despite the still entrenched cultural expectation that girls do not play football. 

My preference, however, is to segregate the sexes in contact sports, with separate women's and men's teams.  There are, after all, undeniable physical differences between the sexes that make segregation desirable (as Title IX itself recognizes).  Nonetheless, if there is no women's team available, in most instances I support giving a qualified woman the opportunity to compete with the men's team.  But I would draw the line at co-ed wrestling due to the intimate (ahem) nature of the contact involved in that sport.  If this came up in my community, I would work really hard to find some other interested girls and put together a girls' wrestling team.  (REMEMBER -- as I said in the previous post, Title IX would not require schools to put a female on a male wrestling team, but state schools might have to do so under the equal protection clause of the federal or applicable state constitution.)

I know the folks at Ladies Against Feminism do not approve of women engaging in the aggressive physicality of sports like football, as you can tell from this article.  The argument seems to be that sports encourage a warlike, manly spirit in women and that women sometimes appear immodest or unlovely when they are engaged in sweaty, no- holds-barred physical competition.  And in a way, they're right!  When you are trying to clobber your opponent, you can't stop to worry about whether you look pretty or whether you may be inflaming male lust.  (By the way, I had a good chuckle at some of the pics in the article, but I actually found them more inspiring than off-putting.)

That's not to say there is anything wrong with having a traditionally feminine appearance or dressing modestly.  On most days, I myself would probably pass the Ladies Against Feminism (LAF) standards on both counts!  But the problem comes in treating a feminine appearance and dress as the be-all and end-all for women.  In fact, it is widely recognized that girls' participation in sports, besides being fun and healthy for its own sake, plays a key role in preventing teen pregnancy.  The reason is that doing sports ingrains in girls the notion that they can use their bodies for fun and competition and feats of skill, strength and endurance.  In other words, girls learn NOT to think of their bodies primarily as sex objects and therefore they are less likely to engage in sex prematurely. 

In addition, engagement in an ever-broadening array of sports isn't about trying to be masculine. It is about learning the value of fair play, how to cope when you make a mistake, vigorous competition, fostering a healthy body, and just enjoying the experiences the world has to offer, including the experience of aggressive, competitive physicality.  There was nothing in those photos in the LAF article that led me to believe that the women athletes depicted wouldn't be excellent mothers and loving wives, or lovely single women. 


My family seems quite focused on sports today.  We attended my niece's cross-country meet.  We were going to attend my nephew's soccer game but it got canceled due to the pouring rain.  And at the moment, my husband and in-laws are assembled in the living room watching college football. 

So I will honor today's sports focus by presenting some interesting research I did a while ago on Title IX and contact sports.  As I am guessing many of you know, Title IX is a federal law that requires public and federally funded schools to provide athletic opportunities for girls and women equal to the opportunities provided to boys and men.  But does that mean federally funded universities are required to permit women to play tackle football?  Not exactly.  The following is a summary of the current state of the law (I am happy to provide citations to anyone who is interested):

1) Title IX GENERALLY requires that women be permitted to try out for and participate in a university men's team if there is no women's team in that sport. 

2) Contact sports are an exeception to that rule.  Contact sports include "boxing, wrestling, rugby, ice hockey, football, basketball and other sports the purpose or major activity of which involve bodily contact." 

3) Therefore, if there is (for example) no football team at the university, the university is not required to permit a woman player on the men's football team.

4) HOWEVER:  When a university allows a woman to play on a men's football team, despite not being required to do so, the university has a duty not to discriminate against that woman player.  For example, in the mid-1990s, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a claim by Heather Sue Mercer, who was permitted to join the Duke University football team but was then prohibited from even dressing for games or sitting on the sidelines, her coach suggesting to her that she should participate in beauty pageants instead. The Fourth Circuit said that once Duke allowed her on the team, it had to treat her fairly.

5)  FURTHERMORE:  There is a possibility that a university would be required to form a woman's football team if there were enough women at the university expressing an interest in playing football.  (Title IX requires that if women are underrepresented among a university's athletes, the university must demonstrate that it has a history or continuing practice of program expansion that is demonstratively responsive to women students' developing interests and abilities, OR that women students' interests and abilities are currently accommodated.)   

6) THERE ARE ALSO ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS ON GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS BEYOND TITLE IX:  Despite Title IX's contact sports exception, government schools (as branches of the state) may be required to permit women to play on men's football teams under the equal protection clauses in the federal and state constitutions. (The equal protection clause would probably not apply to private schools that merely receive government funding.)  While state actors have the right to distinguish between the sexes if there is "a justifiable governmental interest in doing so," most courts that have considered the issue has concluded that protecting female atheletes from injury is not a justifiable government interest.  Here are some great quotations on that issue:

           Any notion that young women are so inherently weak, delicate, or physically inadequate that the state must protect them from the folly of participation in vigorous athletics is a cultural anachronism unrelated to reality. Hoover v. Meiklejohn, 430 F.Supp. 164 (D. Colo. 1997).

          The risk of injury to the average male is not used as a reason for denying males the opportunity to play on the team .  .  . [nor] is the fact that some males cannot meet the team requirements . . . used as a reason for disqualifying [males generally] from the team.  Darrin v. Gould, 540 P.2d 882 (Wash. 1975).

7) TEAMS ARE NOT REQUIRED TO LOWER THEIR STANDARDS:  Even for those state schools which may be required to allow women players on their football teams, there is absolutely no requirement that men's teams lower their standards in order to allow women to play.  In other words, a school can bar a woman player for failing to have the strength or skills necessary to make the team, but the school cannot bar her just because she is a woman. 

But does any of this really matter?  Do women really WANT to participate in such sports or is this all just hypothetical?

Lawyers for Duke University argued that Heather Sue Mercer's case was unimportant because it was unlikely that many other women would ever want to play football.  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, noting:

In 2001, Ashley Martin, a kicker for Jacksonville State University became the first woman to participate and score in a Division I-AA football game, kicking three extra points.  And in 2003, Katie Hnida, a kicker for the University of New Mexico, became the first woman to score in a Division I-A football game, kicking two extra points . . . It is also worth pointing out that in 2003, nearly 3,000 girls in high school . . . played football, and another 10,000 participated in traditionally male sports like ice hockey and wrestling. 

It's enough to make a girl like me put on her shoulder pads and get out there.  Mean Joe Green, here I come.  (OK so I'm dating myself and revealing how little I actually know about football, but I think it is a cool sport.  I'm more likely to stick to running and maybe to take up hockey in my old age when I have time to commit to a team activity.)


When I was a child in a whitebread American community during the '70s, it was quite apparent to me that the boys were allowed to have more fun and were accorded more respect than girls.  Boys got to run all over the classroom playing war, while girls were confined to “the doll corner” (and I mean the teacher came after us if we strayed from our boundaries).  Boys were coached to play games of skill (mainly soccer) while girls played hopscotch.  Hopscotch, quite frankly, isn’t very challenging.  There is a reason there are no professional hopscotch leagues. 

Fathers clapped little boys on the back, and said, “Whaddya think of them Redskins?” Fathers patted little girls on the head and said, “Aren't you a pretty little thing?”  Mothers sighed indulgently that “boys will be boys” while glaring balefully at girls who dared to get their fingernails dirty.  Puny little boys were told to take care of their mothers and sisters while daddy was away.  In the worst example from my childhood, my female gym teacher divided my class into five competitive mixed-sex teams -- each with a little boy as the leader, and a little girl as a second-in-command.   This was in an American public school circa 1979!

Folks like the people at Focus on the Family believe that feminists are trying to turn little girls until little boys and vice-versa.  Others believe that they must impose strictly defined differences upon little boys and little girls.  I understand that they do not want to raise feminists.  I understand that many little girls love dolls.  But my highly gendered childhood DROVE me to feminism.  "Feminism" was the only word I knew that expressed my profound distaste for being placed in a category that did not suit me and my deep longing for the respect the little boys seemed to take for granted. 


My father literally is half Dinosaur and half Feminist.  On good days, his feminist side wins out.  Despite our many differences, I am grateful to him for helping to shape my belief that there are virtually no limits to what we women can achieve. Although the Larry Summers debacle is old news, I thought I would share this email my dad sent me today:

Regarding the idea that women are not as good as men in math and science, such generalizations are probably fatuous and based on anecdotal extrapolations.  But even if some day we can prove it true, it would be quite irrelevant since many women can and do trump many men in science, and the number of women in science is increasing.  Even in my day [as a graduate level science student more than 40 years ago], I knew a number of women in physics and astronomy.

One should consider the case of Lisa Randall, who (besides being a real babe) is probably the most influential theoretical physicist over the past several years.  Her work has revolutionized cosmology and particle physics.  She may become recognized as the Einstein of the 21st century.  She's a full professor at Harvard and you ought to check her out on Harvard's website.  Her presence on the Harvard faculty should be a real kick in the crotch to Harvard president Larry Summers.

Tee hee.  The website has some good links to articles Randall has written for a lay readership.  I may try to get my mind around them this weekend.  I kind of stalled on Newtonian physics so string theory and supersymmetry may be beyond me. 


Over at Hugo's blog, there is some interesting thread drift on whether feminism has any purpose given the legal equality women enjoy in the U.S.  Mr. Bad, a frequent commenter on Hugo's site, asks the following excellent question of another commenter in today's comments section:

I agree with the goals of what you call "classic feminism," but you have the right to equal pay for equal work, and you get it too; when you don't, you can either do it yourself or chose to have the govt. sue on your behalf (e.g., the EEOC). You have the right to decide whether to work or stay at home. You have the right to not have your ass grabbed at work. So what's the problem? What you don't have is a guarantee to equal outcomes independent of personal choices, effort, etc., nor should you.

I agree with Mr. Bad that we American feminists have won the right to equality before the law in most instances.  That does not mean, however, that feminism is no longer important.  Feminism is still relevant for the following reasons:

1) Thomas Jefferson said, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance."  The current legal rights women enjoy in the U.S. are virtually without precedent in human history.  There are those who would strip us of these rights if they could.  In particular, a woman's right to control her fertility -- even via mere contraception -- is still very controversial.  Feminism is necessary to make sure that we hold on to what we have won!

2) People's cultural attitudes have not caught up with the law:

     a)  Many women fail to take advantage of the rights and privileges available to them due to various cultural beliefs or habits.  This is where feminist "empowerment" comes in. 

     b)  All too many men feel entitled to use physical coercion on women to dominate them or force sex upon them. 

     c)  In addition, a  number of misogynist and sexist stereotypes sway judges and jurors to the unjust detriment of women when it comes time to enforce women's legal rights (in the context of discrimination and harassment lawsuits, as well as the criminal prosecution of rape and domestic violence).  (And yes, for the Men's Rights Activists, I agree that stereotypes also hurt male victims of domestic and sexual violence. That fact does not detract from the importance of feminism.)

     d)  Sexist assumptions still prevail in the workplace and many other facets of society.  These assumptions can hurt women.  It's been less than 40 years since the modern feminist movement took off.  Old ways don't disappear overnight! 

3)  Feminists do not limit their concerns to American citizens.  Global feminism still faces enormous problems.  To give just one example, the truly nasty practice of female circumcision is still the norm in many parts of the world as a means to "control" female sexuality.


Crystal posted yesterday on a family in which the mother just had her 16th child. (Assuming no premies, no twins, and no adoptions, this woman has spent 12 whole years of her life pregnant!) 

I want to make it clear that I very much support the rights of families to have as many children as they want, and would certainly never fault a woman who wants to devote her life to childbearing and childrearing.  Of course, I also support families who place their children in day care so that spouses can fully pursue their professsional goals. The following thoughts come to my mind (I posted virtually identical  comments on Crystal's site where they seem to have generated an interesting discussion):      

I think large families like this raise interesting questions regarding a mother's role. It is accepted wisdom in many circles that children are best served by a mother who stays at home rather than a mother who places them in an institutionalized day care setting. But when mother has 16 children, doesn't the family itself start to resemble day care? The main benefit I received as the child of a stay-at-home-mom was constant, individualized attention-- but clearly this degree of maternal involvement in my life would not have been possible if I had had fifteen brothers and sisters.

I think the idealization of a fruitful stay-at-home mother by religious conservatives is at odds with the criticism of women who place their children in day care. This contradiction reinforces my belief that telling women to stay home usually has little to do with what is best for children-- and more to do with limiting women's ability to participate in public life "just because."


As a lawyer, one occasionally stumbles across statutes that seem bizarre, especially when one ventures outside one's normal area of practice.  I have just discovered that, in my state, a maternal grandparent has priority over a paternal grandparent in determining a person's funeral arrangements. 

So there you have it, folks -- if you live in my state, the law confers at least one bona fide advantage upon women based on sex.  Ladies, if your child dies and has no spouse,  parent, adult sibling, adult child, or adult grancdhild, YOUR parents get to make the funeral arrangements, rather than your husband's parents.   


I began this blog (two short days ago!) with several questions regarding the apparently rising influence of religious fundamentalism in America.  One of my queries was numerical -- how many people in the United States actually buy into the views of the Religious Right, especially anti-feminism?  I got some answers yesterday via Feministing, which noted that "nearly eighty percent of Americans are ready for a woman president." 

My first reaction was horror.  Doesn't this mean twenty percent of Americans will not vote for a woman presidential candidate based solely upon her sex? That is one in five people!  Maybe, I thought, I am even more out of touch with my fellow citizens than I even realized.

I breathed more easily once I read the related links.  According to this USA Today article, the majority of those opposed to a woman president are older folks:

One in four Americans 65 and older said they wouldn't vote for a female president; just one in 20 of those under 30 held that view.

That means that my new friends Crystal and Caleb, who I understand to oppose the notion of women leaders on the national stage, are among a minority of just 5% for their "under 30" demographic.  (This is just a demographic statement, not an argument that they are wrong.  I believe that they are wrong, but not because they are in the minority.)

There are other interesting statistics in the White House Project's report:    

                  79% of Americans are okay with the idea of a woman President

                  84% of Americans are okay with the idea of a woman Vice President

                  90% of Americans are okay with  a woman Supreme Court Justice

What's up with that?  Who are the 5% who think a woman VP is okay but not a woman president?  What is the distinction in their minds? 

Finally, while I didn't read the actual poll, I assume the questions were general and abstract, such as "Would you potentially ever vote for a woman president?"  This poll does not account for potential subconscious responses to a woman candidate, such as a possible tendency to take her less seriously without realizing it if she is smaller or shorter or speaks in a higher pitched voice.  (It's no coincidence that the producers of "Commander in Chief" selected six foot tall Geena Davis to play the first woman President.  Real progress would be if they hired an actress who shops in the "petite" section like me!)


I have tons to say on the sometimes uneasy relationship (real and imagined) between homemakers and feminists (and I don't mean to imply that these are mutually exclusive categories).  But it's past midnight, and I am  drunk on this whole blogging thing, so I am going to wait until I am a bit more coherent.

Just as a teaser though, I will comment on what I have perceived as a common portrayal of homemakers in the movies.  The two movies of which I am thinking are pretty old -- "A Time to Kill" (1996) and "JFK" (1991).  In "A Time to Kill," the lawyer played by Matthew McConaughey takes on the dangers of defending a black man charged with the murder of two Klan members who raped his daughter.  The wife, played by Ashley Judd, spends the whole movie giving McConaughey a hard time because the case is disrupting their comfortable lifestyle.  In "JFK," the wife (played by Sissy Spacek) causes prosecutor Jim Garrison (played by Kevin Costner) grief for all the time he spends investigating the possibility that there was a conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy. 

I remember being struck as  I was watching both movies that these women were stock movie characters -- the pain-in-the-butt wife who is more concerned about safety and security and an easy life than she is about the great things her man is achieving, the boring homemaker who is incapable of thinking of any larger principles than the needs of her immediate family.  I am sure if I sit down and think that I could come up with zillions of additional examples of such movie characters.

Why do these characters get under my skin so much?  As my husband pointed out when we watched "A Time to Kill," there are doubtless many wives (and husbands) who have bemoaned their partners' far reaching endeavors.  And the Ashley Judd character had a point, I suppose, especially after the Klan bombed her house. 

I guess it bugs me because I grew up watching my homemaker mom stoically supporting my father throughout numerous dangerous endeavors.  And it bugs me because these portrayals seem so repetitive and unnuanced.  And worst of all, they seem to underscore a stereotype that women are uninterested in the larger issues or principles that can give life adventure and meaning beyond one's immediate family.  They reduce women to boring, one-dimensional obstacles to the all the exciting and important things men want to accomplish.

I bring this up, in part, because I think a lot of the negative stereotypes of homemakers are not just anti-homemaker but generally anti-woman.  Even though I am not a homemaker myself, I take some of these stereotypes somewhat personally. Anyone who may be reading out there in the blogosphere, can you think of any other examples? Or am I all wet?  Have movies improved in this regard in recent years? 


When I first started toying (a full two months ago) with the notion of starting a blog, I knew immediately that my moniker would be "the Happy Feminist."  It is only in part a take-off on the notion of "the Happy Homemaker," or "the Happy Hooker" (that old Penthouse column by Xaviera Hollander), both phrases that imply an unquestioning contentedness with one's subservient role. My name is also intended as a counterpoint to the still lingering belief that feminists are unhappy, bitter, angry people, and that feminism is a recipe for a miserable personal life. 

I am, in fact, quite literally a very happy person and a feminist, and my happiness is due in large part because of the fruits of feminism.  Every morning, my Jewish great grandfather said a prayer to thank God that he was not born a woman.  Every morning, I tingle with gratitude that I WAS born a woman in this exciting time and place -- this virtually unprecedented period in which I enjoy all the same rights, privileges, and opportunities as my male peers. 

My happiness is tempered, however, by a number of factors.  First, as a middle class, graduate school-educated, heterosexual, white American woman, I enjoy all sorts of privileges not available to others.  Second, in many parts of the world, women are still virtually chattel, subject to torture and degradation based solely on their sex.    Third, even the most advantaged women today are still at times disadvantaged by sexism.  Fourth,  I don't feel entirely secure in the progress we have made.  After all, this golden era is just a blip in the big sweep of history and there does seem to be a backlash.  As Thomas Jefferson said, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."  We feminists must be eternally vigilant.

FOLLOW UP:  And whaddya know.  Just after I completed this draft entry, I found an October 9 entry at Feministing critiquing statements by Hillary Clinton that are remarkably similar to what I just said:

"We have made so many advances in the last 40 years that are really unprecedented in the history of the world," said Clinton, one of 10 women inducted Saturday in the National Women's Hall of Fame.

"I don't think there has ever been a better time to be a woman than in the United States of America in the 21st century," she said in an interview. "We have a broad scope of choices ... that really are defined by who we are and what we want as individuals and not constricted by the gender we were born into."