Friday, June 30, 2006

Rumors of Boys' Demise Greatly Exaggerated

The idea that boys are having it harder educationally, as reported as some kind of crisis by the media, is, whaddya know, overblown and off-course. (Unless of course, the media was talking about black and Hispanic boys, who are actually underperforming compared with white boys. But of course, they weren't.)

According to a new study boys are doing better than ever at school. But girls are outstripping boys even as they do the best ever. But we'll give them an A for effort.

UPDATE: Judith Warner wrote about this study as a guest columnist for the New York Times:

According to "The Truth About Boys and Girls," a report from the nonpartisan group Education Sector, most boys aren't just not failing; they're doing better than ever on most measures of academic performance. The only boys who aren't — the boys who skew the scores because they're doing really, really badly — are Hispanic and black boys and those from low-income homes.

"But the predominant issues for them," wrote Sara Mead, who based her conclusions in the study on decades of government statistics, "are race and class, not gender." Mead's conclusions echo those of Prof. Caryl Rivers of Boston University and Prof. Rosalind Chait Barnett of Brandeis.

"White suburban boys," they wrote in The Washington Post earlier this year, "are not dropping out of school, avoiding college or lacking in verbal skills ... among whites, the gender composition of colleges is pretty balanced. ... In Ivy League colleges, men still outnumber women."
Dame's Eye View

Check out the story in WomenseNews today about how the leader of the Pine Ridge reservation stood up to the S. Dakota abortion ban by offering to open an abortion clinic on her rez. Now she's being asked to step down.

And, related to my post about bloggers to bestsellers yesterday, check out some of the women blogger links. Center for New Words has an extensive blog roll. Maybe there's a bestseller hiding in there!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

From Blogger to Bestseller

If Glenn Greenwald and David Sirota can do it, well, a girl can dream about making the New York Times bestseller list, can't she?

It's cool to see bloggers making the difference if a book lives or dies in the public conversation. If you read the Jane Mayer piece in this week's New Yorker, you would d know to be afriad of the Bush administration, very afraid. As Daily Kos points out, the marketplace of ideas has been percolating up through the blogs to the mainstream media: the media conglomerates that bury the lede don't get to decide what's news any more. We've already decided. And we're reading it.
Great News! I'm Pre-Pregnant!

Let's revisit. In May, new federal guidelines advised all women of child-bearing age (and nowadays that seems to be 6-60) to consider their bodies in a permanent state of about-to-be-knocked up healthy readiness. It's not about your health, the guideliness imply, it's about the health of the baby you may have one day. With teen birth rates going down, not up, you can still never be too careful. So, from first period to menopause, think of yourself as -- forever pre-pregnant.

Here's a helpful illustration to explain how it works.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

And Baby Makes a Mess

Did anyone else see this on CNN this morning?

It was a teaser story for an in-depth Paula Zahn report about a woman, paralzyed from the neck down, who recently found love and got married. Good for her! But wait, that's not sick and exploitative, so of course, there's more: they decide to have a baby. The old-fashioned way. So doctors go along with this, and apparently the story tonight is all about her labor and childbirth (which from rather graphic footage looks natural). Even though the reporter does say that the chances of this happening on a regular basis are infinitesimal, given the small percent of women of child-bearing age who are paralyzed, this didn't seem to beg the question: why should I care?

Now the woman's health is -- shockingly -- bad. She has such high blood pressure she's unable to get out of bed, much less care for her child. Cautionary tale? Or story of perseverance? You can guess which angle the network picked.

Another viewpoint from Mother Jones on Breeder Reaction that asks if everyone has the right to have a baby? And if so, who is getting fertility help and who isn't?

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Devil Wears Bad Pantsuits

In college, I once attended a career training seminar about why women are perfect for today's workplace, as opposed to those old white male dinosaurs. We're flexible, we're empathic, we don't have huge egos. We've been forced to develop skills -- like learning new technology -- that these men hadn't. We were way ahead! Men didn't even see us -- or changes to corporate America -- coming.

It didn't take me long to realize, as a temp, how ridiculous these assumptions were, especially when the dress code required me to wear skirts. How could I operate from a position of power when I had to show my knees, take notes and answer the phone?

The new movie The Devil Wears Prada inspired the New York Times to write about women leaders with the Anna Wintour-type editor played by Meryl Streep. The article admits that women can be hell to work for, too.

As quoted here:

BUT these instincts break down in certain circumstances, studies suggest, namely when women feel insecure because they are a token minority whose competence is in question, said Theresa Vescio, a psychologist at Penn State University.

"In these conditions, women tend to treat the lowest-ranking female workers as poorly as men do," Dr. Vescio said. The social skills that allow many women to be effective leaders also give them access to valuable information that hands-off or dictatorial types don't have. Collaboration not only engages colleagues but also helps expose them as possible allies or rivals. Helping others manage their careers and home life brings out gossip about hidden vulnerabilities and relationships in the organization. A manager, as she ascends, may use this information to protect others — or to keep them in check. (As in: "Can you take this job, given your family situation?")

I love the idea that women use their "collaborative" skillset to form alliances and then crush anyone in their paths. Brilliant! As long as you're not in the way.

For those of us x-ers, who had such a hard time getting so much as a foothold into the workplace (and the Devil plot has to do with desperation -- the lowly assitant gets hired because she's willing to work anywhere, for anyone, even the devil of a boss) without having to worry about whether we had a mentor who would help us. A tyrant, even dressed in Prada, maybe especially dressed in Prada, is still a tyrant.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Bagel Daze

Some people, like my husband, can't live without a good cut of steak. Others, many others, crave chocolate. I can do without all of that. But I can't go by a day without a bagel. And here is not the space where I wax on about the perfect bagel, do I prefer boiled versus steamed (who cares -- be glad you're not a bagel, one sign in town reads), so sorry, chowhounds. I even eat goy bagels -- the raisin ones. And whole wheat.

Well, I've been noticing for some time that the place where you go buy a bagel -- I guess back in the day it was a deli -- now is its own special place, with its own special name. Like Bagel World. Or Bagel Delight. Or, in the case of my neighborhood, House of Bagel. I'm not sure why it is that these kind of places always have such overblown names for such a small, holey piece of bread. When I was in New York there would be like 17 on every block, each with its own sort of unique name.

In my mom's neighbhood on the Upper East Side, TAL bagel is now all the rage. Where else can you go to hear a 70-year-old, otherwise perfectly normal, neurotic New Yorker tell his server to give him a bagel, but "scoop it out," and then spread the cream cheese on thick. I mean, it is bread, what did the guy expect?

It's also the place of new math. Buy two more it will cost $6, not $7. Buy three more and get five free. Really, it is truly impossible to understand the kind of sudoku logic. Especially if you haven't had coffee yet, the line is winding out the door, people are staring at you like you're an idiot, and maybe you are but you have no idea, because this formula wasn't handed down to you at birth as it seems to be for the guy patiently explaining, for the 11th time, why you should buy two more bagels and not the usual half dozen that you just ordered. Or maybe you didn't, because you weren't counting. But I digress.

So I'm picking up my weekly supply at House of Bagel today, and this place, it's been around for years. It's always been no-frills. Dingy may be the better word. Badly lit inside with simple racks of bagels and a refrigerator full of Philly cream cheese and generic OJ in back. They even let a homeless guy sleep in the doorway. But he's gone now, and in his place is a garish mural and a new sign (same name), and inside they've dolled up the place. Put in some seats, added a menu for sandwiches with names like the Geary Blvd. Don't ask: I mean, if Geary could be a sandwich, it would be full of dirt and traffic, so I'm not sure what is the inspiration. I think there's some turkey in it.

But ahead of me is a woman ordering a so-called breakfast bagel. "Give me a breakfast bagel," she says. And now that means something at House of. "And put bacon on it," she adds. "I'm sorry," the teen working the counter says, "we're Kosher. No bacon."
"OK, then ham." She doesn't even miss a beat. "Sorry, we're Kosher. No ham." "Out of meat today?" Clueless asks. "Only beef," she's told. And for the third time, "We're Kosher style." "OK," Clueless gives up. "Do you have any regular bread?"
Then it hits me. This is the reason for the big names on the signs. What part of BAGEL does she not understand?

I guess this is just the price Jewish culture pays for going white bread on the West Coast.

Friday, June 23, 2006

World's Oldest Accessory

And I thought I hung on to my neclaces for a long time.

Anthropologists have just discovered a 100,000-year-old shell that's been carefully perforated as if to hang on a necklace. See, even hippie chicks then were making cool jewelry.

So, even back in per-historic times, homo sapiens wanted to accessorize. Maybe this is what really separates us from the apes. I can just imagine putting on a necklace or two to assist with mating rituals, up my status or to take the emphasis away from certain other furry parts.

The vintage age of this accessory gives new meaning to the word antique, and also is a whopping 25,000 years earlier than had perviously been thought that people first adorned themselves. So advanced!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

This week in the New Yorker my journalism school prof Cynthia Gorney writes about the extreme abortion ban in S. Dakota, and how the pro-life fanatics miscalculated that their extreme ban would simply get the attention of the Supreme Court and lead to a reversal of Roe v. Wade. Instead, it has galvanized regular people around the state to overturn the ban. And even people on both sides of the issue now think it should be put to a vote (the sodomized and insestously raped virgin argument that Bill Napoli made seems to have had an effect.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Short Shoppers Saved by Saks

A business story in the New York Times today trumpets a victory for short shoppers: after being "scolded" by Saks, the tony department store is bringing back petites. So shorties still have their own section. I'm sure the plus-size department does a lot better these days, and frankly, I always find better small stuff in the kids department than the snoozer petite section (because if you're small, what you really want is really small suits for your really small boring life), but Saks has a plan: they're going to re-vamp it since they've apparently figured out that even short people like to wear clothes besides power suits. Genius!

Monday, June 19, 2006

This Just In: Newsweek Was Wrong (20 Years Ago)

Earlier this month Newsweek made news by admitting a news story that became so pernicious in our culture -- a faux stat that women would be more likely to be killed by a terrorist than married by 40 -- was actually made up. A clever journalist at Newsweek wrote that "killed by a terrorist" quip to describe a Yale study stat -- that never mentioned terrorists. But it stuck. Caryl Rivers, who I saw speak at the Women, Action and Media conference in Cambridge, MA this past spring, has an excellent opinion piece on Womens enews about this ridiculous claim -- that people knew at the time made no sense. Even the researchers of the study said it had been misinterpreted. Does it matter that Newsweek apologizes for getting the story so wrong, even 20 years later? Well, given that the wedding industrial complex seems to be humming along just fine, maybe only the terrorists have something to say about it.
Rape by the Numbers

New stats show rape is in decline in this country. Check out the Washington Post story on the piece, which looks beyond the good news to explore what the numbers really mean.

I'm wondering why no-one looked into college campus stats (not even sure if those are included on the FBI stats), which, as far as I've heard, still have a major problem.
Wedding Blues

It's June. And this signals the season for magazines to make a lot of money for wedding ads. But does that mean I have to read about it, too?

This Sunday's San Francisco magazine devoted its entire issue to the deep, all-consuming issue like: strapless gowns -- why you shouldn't wear one. How not to be a bridezilla. How to survive bridal boot camp. Every article helpfully pointed out various local vendors that you could pay for all these services to get you through your wedding day. Have the perfect dress, the perfect body, the perfect attitude. The style pages showcased women in white. Excuse me while I puke. Not that I expect much from the SF Chronicle, but if I want to read In Style magazine, I buy it. At the very least, I would expect a modicum of critical analysis, a dose of humor, an alternative perspective. But that would be expecting too much.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Today in History

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Soweto uprising. During apartheid, after Nelson Mandela was in prison, so many of those working to end apartheid had been killed, inprisoned or otherwise silenced.

Then, something amazing happened. School children found their voices. On All Things Considered today Joe Richman will air an audio history of this astounding and heartbreaking moment in history. Or you can go to his Web site to hear the story of the Soweto uprising.
Birthday Letter

I finally figured out why going to college is so great: you come out with friends for life who are the same age as you, not matter how old that is. There they are.

"It's great you could join us. Welcome to 37," came the phone call at 3 a.m. (from Paris). Then an e-mail at 11. A cellphone message at 3 from New York (eastern time). Brice Canyon came at 6 a.m. today since the caller was without access to phones the day before.

This is the only good thing about aging. That and presents. And shoe shopping. And being alive. These days, I try not to indulge in anything buy joy at whatever the next year, the next day, the next moment brings. My sister told me never to put anything off, so I try to live these words for both of us.

I got a card that gave multiple-choice options for what excuse my birthday gives me: time to start a revolution was checked off. Watch out. Thirty-seven, here I come.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Just Add Breast Milk. Stir in Guilt.

It's official. If you don't breast feed your baby for six months, they'll be susecptible to disease, infection and obesity. So suck it up for the pucker up from your baby.

That's what the World Health Organization is trying to get across to new mothers. So, Barbara Walters, no more complaining that it is so declasse to see women flashing a boob in your face on the airplane. Men, no more whining about exposed women with babies on the street. (Even if it's fine on billboards.)

The truth is, women get guff if they breast feed, and probably worse guff when they don't, or can't, because they spend a good deal of their time at work -- 60% of young mothers are in the work force, trying to carve out a private space to pump as their breasts fill with milk when they're without their baby.

As if moms aren't already wracked with worry about their kids' health. Here's one more reason to feel bad. If you don't breast feed, you could hurt your baby for life. Like smoking or drinking when pregnant. A Public Service announcement compares a pregnant woman riding -- and being thrown from -- a mechanical bull in a bar to depriving your little one of breast milk.

"You wouldn't take risks before your baby's born," the advertisement says. "Why start after?"

Puleeze. I could see maybe not feeding your baby. That would be cruel. But not feeding your baby the boob? That's taking it a little far.

Check out the New York Times piece online today.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Bloggers Rule

At least, progressive ones. At least, for the weekend. I loved seeing the coverage of the convention of bloggers into the atmosphere from the blogsophere as sort of a beweildered meeting of two species (old vs new media).

The idea that by turning on your computer and self-publsihing we, blogger universe, are helping to up-end the conventional wisdom of what sells, who reads, and who's in charge of the media, and the democratic party. Love that!

Friday, June 09, 2006


It's front-page news.The FDA finally approved a vaccine that will hopefully stamp out cervical cancer and HPV for good for those who get it. Who gets it is still kind of up in the air, since the vaccine is for people who will have S-E-X, and despite what religious fanatics would have you believe, basically means everyboy, and so should be required and covered by health insurers. The NY Times reports that the median age for sex these days is 15, so recommended age to get the vaccine will be for 12- or 13-year olds.

Unlike much medical research that is based on men, this is a successful vaccine that's been developed exculsively for girls, although it's hoped that it will be expanded to boys (it does take two to tango, or to give and get gential warts). I wonder how many vaccines are like that in the world. Any?

Well, it's about damn time. Cervical cancer is the second biggest killer of women around the world. The world! And the idea that there is any judgement, or that women who have cancer should be punished for getting it by not making the vaccine required like any other, is an outrageous and hateful stance and makes no sense for public health, the fight to end cancer or STDs.
Marketing Cycle

This morning NPR reported on a pill that banishes the period altogether. In other words, get on this cycle and stop yours.

Not only is it fine, healthy, normal, not weird, say the health experts, but the whole forced period thing you get when on the regular pill was nothing more than a marketing ploy to begin with. When you're on the pill, you never really do get your period. So, why bother. Now the new marketing bashes the old marketing. They're pushing this pill without a period as the new normal.

Really, the only loser in this deal is the tampon industry.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Dame's Eye View

What I'm reading now: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I'm nostalgic for the original chick lit produced by one of the most famous alums of my alma mater. Our hero is single in New York City working for a women's magazine . . . sound familiar? It's based on Plath's experience as a guest editor for Mademoiselle. But it's so much darker, better written and insightful than anything published since then on similar topics. It's ground-breaking, in an over-dramatic, girl meets city kind of way.

What I want to see: An Inconvenient Truth. The scariest movie of the season: Al Gore's dire and all-too-real warning on global warming. Did it just get hot in here?

What to do: did I mention the Anglo-mania show at the NYC's Metropolitan Museum of Art? It's so weird and off-beat I can't believe it's actually in that stuffy place. There are 3-d dioramas of 18th-century dress mixed in with British punk fashions. Then the wall text helpfully points out what's "tradition" and what's "transgression." Trust me, it's not all that subtle when the transgression is, say, a dress made entirely out of pink rosettes shaped into an ice-cream cone.

When to marry: later! According to the New York Times, women are getting married, they're just doing it later rather than sooner. And, they're not more likely to die trying. Still, the article couldn't help get in a couple of jabs at women who are still glad they made their When Harry Met Sally deadline (40, for those of you who don't own the movie or watch it on a regular basis.)

Speaking of Nora Ephron, I just finished her piece in the New Yorker while on the plane ride back from NYC. It describes her decades-long love affair with a rent-controlled apartment. My mom used to live just blocks from that building and I always wondered what went on behind those enormous gates. If you know anything about living in NYC, or if you don't, you must read it. You really must.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Then and Now

R. started out her Smith reunion at the hospital for stress-related issues, and maybe strep. Still, she powered through the cocktail parties and introduced herself to everyone she knew or didn’t. The vibe for the 15th was decidedly subdued. Overworked or under-entertained moms showed up for a break without the kids. Many came from places like Darien and Greenwich. One person came up to my friend K., who had a nametag with her Brooklyn address on it and exclaimed, “Brooklyn! I’m in New Jersey!” She wondered how to respond to that. R. wanted to know where the other art majors had gone. They sure weren’t in abundance at this reunion.

We, that is me, my husband L., K. and her husband M. and baby F., were late. As we got caught in Brooklyn-Danbury-Northampton perfect storm of evil holiday traffic, we were a good six hours longer than expected. I called R., already submerged in Smith activities, for updates. “Good purses.” She said. “Lots of bling.” “Better hair.” She was there with her mom’s class of '66. Her grandmother, a Smith alum, also made an appearance and the three generations enjoyed boxed lunches on the lawn before the eldest was driven back to her Connecticut home.

At Gloria Steinem’s 15-year Smith reunion, she delivered the commencement address to the class of ‘71. At our 15th the feminist movement was a bit AWOL. Gloria, where are you when we need you? We’d come back with the smallest non-representative percentage that enjoys a lifestyle of the rich and homebound. This is not how I thought my classmates would turn out. But there some of them were, telling me about their nannies and their charity work. Class of '91, meet class of '51.

At the parade of the classes on Ivy Day (faux Ivy Day, really, since this is a tradition that leads up to graduation, and for the classes ending in five, there is no graduation. That has come and gone the week before.) The women wear white, and parades by class year up to the quad where graduation takes place. We walk in order, the oldest class to the youngest, with signs and class-colored sashes, flanked by the graduating class on the sidelines making a garland of roses. They then bring up the rear of the long line of alums. The loudest, youngest, most excited women you’ve ever seen. And it’s their turn to take on the mantle of alums. It sounds weird and woman-schoolish, but I swear, if you experienced it yourself, you'd be jealous your school didn't have such a tradition of its own. After getting over the exhortation to wear white shoes (sneakers are OK), you just can’t help but be moved when the two remaining members of the class of ’31 are wheeled on to the route. They looked good, too, in their perfectly bobbed hair and sunny smiles.

For the off-graduating years, it’s no less moving, but certainly less exuberant. Each time we’ve gone through Ivy Day, we forget a few things about being back at Smith. One is that activities start early in the morning. Breakfast is at 7:30. Since we stayed in Morris House, a rather thread-bare rambling dorm with a shared dining room with neighboring Tyler, this meant shuffling over to our respective rooms to make sure we were all awake. (We were.) That we had something white to wear. (We did.) And that we were prepared to take in a large, heavy breakfast before shuffling over to the parade ground. (We were resigned to this fate.)

When we finally filed into the main field where we sat to hear Carol Christ, president of the school, give her special alumnae speech, I had a weird moment, looking at all these women in white and thinking – this is a dream. Will this really last too far into this century – the women agreeing to wear white, agreeing to support a women’s college and women’s education. I couldn’t figure it out – is it quaint and archaic, or radical and rebellious?

Well, it’s both. My doubts were somewhat allayed when a stunning young graduating class member who had benefited from alumnae funds spoke of her journey from Ghana to Smith, snow and physics. A Smith scholarship at her side all the way. Inspiring and that was the point. Maybe she’ll be the next Barak Obama. Maybe we'll fork over more gift money to the school than ever before. Let's get all the women of Ghana to Smith! Let's create an army of Smith physicists! Still, her speech said so much more than Carol Christ’s jingoistic listing of every Fulbright and prize a Smithie had received this year. Even if it does say something about the school. It doesn’t say everything.

Here’s a stat that should worry anyone thinking about going to college or sending someone else: $42,000. That’s how much one year of a Smith education runs these days.

Here’s another: 90%. That’s the number of students who can’t afford to pay for a Smith education. Here’s something else that doesn't add up. As I looked around at the small showing of our class reunion, where women were in the midst of major transitions in their lives – children, staying at home, balancing work and family, divorcing, single and urban, no one had figured out quite the right formula. One friend of mine felt disappointed by the tone. “There was no political discussion of women’s issues!” Smith without the politics? We may as well have been at Holyoke. We're not on our way to Stepford, but we're not out of the woods, either.