Monday, April 30, 2007

John Edwards Hair Don't

Thanks, Jen Sorensen, for crunching the numbers on Edwards' hair cuts. Maybe I should call it hair-gate. If you want to know the real cost, click here.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Wage Matters

Adding to the challenge of balancing work and family: women still make less, much less, than men. Even right out of college.

According to women's enews:

The American Association of University Women, the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, released a report today that finds that one year after college graduation, women make 80 percent of what their male counterparts earn. As women's age increases they fall further behind men. Ten years out of school, women earn 69 percent of what their male peers do.

Women with the same degrees, coming from the same college, still make out worse.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Working My Last Nerve

I am getting a little tired of being told about the mass exodus of working women from the workforce. Linda Hirshman's piece in the NY Times yesterday tells moms to get back to work.

Well, hello: the percentage may have slipped, but the majority of mothers are still very much at work. I will quote from the actual study:

In 2005, the participation rate of married mothers with preschoolers was 60 percent, about 4 percentage points lower than its peak in 1997 and 1998. Married mothers with children under a year old (infants) showed the most dramatic changes. After reaching a peak of 59.2 percent in 1997, the participation rate for married mothers of infants fell by about 6 percentage points to 53.3 percent in 2000 and has shown no clear trend since then. In comparison, the participation rate of married mothers of school-age children (aged 6 to 17) fell by just 2 percentage points, from 77 percent in 1997 to about 75 percent in 2005.

OK, I'm going to make some radical intuitive leaps. So bear with me.

1. In 1997 and 1998 we were experiencing a major economic expansion. Everyone was working more. I am willing to bet (and will do more research on this) that all these numbers were at a high during those boom years.

2. Women with infants are participating less in the workforce since 2000. Women with infants are also having children at a later age. I would like to overlay this stat with age groups. Since if women are slightly older with an infant, they're not exactly leaving the workforce since they've been in it for some time.

The report notes: "From 1997 to 2000, the participation rate of mothers aged 16-24 fell by 2 percentage points, and the rate of those aged 25-34 fell by 6 percentage points, while the rate of older mothers (aged 35-44) fell by 7 percentage points. "

3. Despite the trend down, the article notes there is "no clear trend" since then. That makes sense: mothers who are working are still in the majority.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Halberstam's Last Stand

I read back my notes from author David Halberstam's alumni key note address on Saturday night, two days before he was killed in a car crash during his visit to the Bay Area. It was a good speech, and took on so much added meaning since it was his last speech.

At first it seemed that there was no recording of it, since Halberstam was notoriously difficult to work with, and no one dared broach the subject with him, according to someone who helped plan the event.

An enterprising alum managed to record his speech on the sly, and you can read the transcript of the last speech he ever gave here.

Here's an excerpt:

I think the most important question, as you go towards being a historian, is why. Why do things happen? Why do they not happen? What are the forces at play? And that’s really, I think, what put me out of the routine of daily journalism. This is not just a book you do. This is part of your own education. This is a great, great gift you get from this life. And that is the chance to be paid to learn. I mean, what defines your life at the end of it when you hit 70 or even a few years more is love and friendship and family and things you’ve done. But I think it’s the education and the ability to spend, what is now 52 years, learning every day.

Going out every day and asking questions and coming away with just a little bit more knowledge. What a blessing. And each book was really like a graduate school. I’d enter graduate school for four years and learn this and go on to the next one and learn something more. And so I got to study the rise of modern media, a book about the industrial challenge of the Japanese, a book about the Civil Rights movement, a book on the impact of technology on the society of the 50s, the conflict of the Cold War, the rise of the China lobby in the Korean War – that’s a great education. That’s more than any person really has a right to expect.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Now Hear This

My good buddy Tamara Keith -- who is also the hostess with the mostess for our show, B-Side Radio, has taken on a new challenge. She's entered the American Idol style Public Radio Talent Quest for the next big radio star. It's for people who dream not of being the next Jennifer Hudson but Ira Glass. With better hair and glasses. Sorry, I love ya, Ira, but you know, your look could use some updating and hey, you're pushing 50. Not really the new voice in radio anymore. Time to hand that mantle to the next big thing. Like Tamara. (P.S. I would totally say this to his face and guess what, I think he agrees because he's one of the promoters of the contest and he's on the PRX Web site encouraging everyone to try out. So there.)

OK, so it's American Idol style, so you vote on host entries, and people get cut and move on to the next round. The winner gets $10,000 and a pilot radio show. That's right, Tamara could take B-Side all the way. She really deserves your vote, too. Because she's fun and a natural and sounds actually not half dead, like your basic NPR host. So give a listen to this great quickie story about her encounter with the Governator. And then give her your vote.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Best and Brightest

Everything I learned about journalism, the media, the 60s, even rowing, I first learned about from David Halberstam.

Starting from high school when I first discovered The Best and the Brightest, I consumed all of his books. How could one man have so much to say on such a wide swath of topics? But he did.

And how he's dead.

I spent Saturday at the Berkeley school of journalism, for an alumni weekend session on journalism and history. David Halberstam's talk was a natural culmination to the day. Just like his books, he was smart, witty and expansive. Especially about the stupidity of the Iraq war.

The world will be less bright without him.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Mommy Myth

Surveying my Smith class of 1991, one thing is clear: each woman must be a pioneer, navigating her path of work and family as if it's never been done before. The media doesn't help -- presenting case after case of upper-middle-class women -- like my Smith alum -- who "choose" to stay home with their kids. And even if it's not true that women are mass exiting work life for home life, it's easy enough to believe because, well, it is hard to balance work and family.

Lisa Belkin's 2003 New York Times magazine article on fellow Princeton graduates who on the face of it were "choosing" to leave their killer careers because of the killer hours were forming an "opt-out revolution" to stay home with the kids instead.

To pile on the guilt for this miniscule demographic (although no doubt making up a large number of readers of The New York Times) these very overeducated stay-at-home moms are being chastised by the book "The Feminine Mistake," which warns that women who stay home put themselves at finaicial risk by staking their homemaker claim on rich husbands who will not divorce them.

Of course, balancing career and family is a huge problem for many women to work out -- but that doesn't mean women aren't working. On the contrary, a majority of mothers in the U.S. are working. And if they "opt out," they're having kids later in life, after they've been working for some time. Which isn't exactly opting out.

E. J. Graff, who spoke at the Women, Action and Media conference I attended last month in Cambridge, MA, wrote a piece for the Columbia Journalism Review that sheds some light on the history of this media myth of the stay-at-home mom, which will not die.

Graff writes,

The opt-out stories have a more subtle, but equally serious, flaw: their premise is entirely ahistorical. Their opening lines often suggest that a generation of women is flouting feminist expectations and heading back home. At the simplest factual level, that’s false. Census numbers show no increase in mothers exiting the work force, and according to Heather Boushey, the maternity leaves women do take have gotten shorter. Furthermore, college-educated women are having their children later, in their thirties—after they’ve established themselves on the job, rather than before. Those maternity leaves thus come in mid-career, rather than pre-career. Calling that “opting out” is misleading. As Alice Kessler-Harris, a labor historian at Columbia University, put it, “I define that as redistributing household labor to adequately take care of one’s family.” She adds that even while at home, most married women keep bringing in family income, as women traditionally have. Today, women with children are selling real estate, answering phone banks, or doing office work at night when the kids are in bed. Early in the twentieth century, they might have done piecework, taken in laundry, or fed the boarders. Centuries earlier, they would have been the business partners who took goods to market, kept the shop’s accounts, and oversaw the adolescent labor (once called housemaids and dairymaids, now called nannies and daycare workers).

I hope the media starts getting the word out. But I doubt it. It's easier to believe the myth then have to deal with the reality.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Freedom of Choice Act

It's being re-introduced in Congress today, and not a moment too soon. At least we don't have to sit helplessly by while our rights are taken away. Call and write your congresspeople and demand they pass this legislation that would reverse the Supreme Court's abortion ban.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Trust Us, We're Helping You

Father knows best. That's the idea behind Justice Kennedy's argument for knocking down the right to a later-trimester abortion. Not facts. Not actual case histories, which are truly horrific, of why women in these tragic situations need this procedure done.

In a news analysis for the New York Times, Linda Greenhouse writes:

Justice Kennedy conceded that “we find no reliable data” on whether abortion in general, or the procedure prohibited by the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, causes women emotional harm. But he said it was nonetheless “self-evident” and “unexceptional to conclude” that “some women” who choose to terminate their pregnancies suffer “regret,” “severe depression,” “loss of esteem” and other ills.

Consequently, he said, the government has a legitimate interest in banning a particularly problematic abortion procedure to prevent women from casually or ill-advisedly making “so grave a choice.”

That may be his opinion, but god knows that doesn't make it true. But guess what, it's now the law of the fucking land because he said so.

And you know what else he did, and those 5 majority votes did -- they just made it OK for every wingnut in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, North Dakota and fill in crazy red state here, to put up anti-abortion legislation they feel like because, guess what: the whole idea that extreme anti-abortion legislation is unconstitutional doesn't fly any more. Because it just might be legit. Sonograms for women seeking abortions? Why not? Harsher murder sentences for the murder of a pregnant woman? You bet. A no-access pass for any kind of abortion? Heck, worth a try, because it sure does seem like the highest court of the land would be amenable to such a thing.

These are surreal times.


Here's what's really making me mad today. Bush says he promotes a culture of life. Is the war in Iraq promoting a culture of life? Is dying in childbirth promoting a culture of life? Is carrying to term a still-born fetus promoting a culture of life?

The Supreme Court may be taking away our choice, but not our voice. There's a protest going on with Planned Parenthood Golden Gate tonight at the steps of City Hall in San Francisco at 5 p.m. Check with your local Planned Parenthood for protests around the country. If you can't come tonight, there will surely be more opportunities. Many more.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

More Bad News

The Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold the late-term abortion ban. This is a terrible sign of the new Alito-Roberts court. It is an awful sign about the future of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion. And it is a grim sign for women, our health, and the future of our right to make those decisions.

Justice Ginsburg, according to Reuters, called the decision alarming.

She took the rare step of reading parts of her dissent from the bench.

"In candor, the Partial Birth Abortion Act and the court's defense of it cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this court -- and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women's lives," she said.

Bush may be gone in 2008, but his legacy through these two anti-woman court appointees, will live on, a very long time. For those who voted for Nader in 2000 because they thought there was no difference between Bush and Gore, I give you: the criminalization of abortion.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Brace Yourselves

You know something's up when you turn on the TV at 10 at night and there's Brian Williams, in a raincoat, standing outside on a cold, windy night like he's reporting on a hurricane.

When the adrenaline flows to Nightly News making them all-night news, things are bad.

The death of over 30 students and teachers at Virginia Tech today is horrific. But here's the other awful part: we're going to have to hear about it 24-7 for a long time coming. I for one, do not look forward to that.

Matt Lauer said to Brian Williams in his stand-up that when he went on to campus (surprisingly easy!) students seemed surprised to see him there. They have no idea that this event that took place today, he said, was historic.

Imagine that. After surviving the unimaginable, I only hope the students can withstand the media storm.
This is Your Brain on Fairy Tales

I remember this ad campaign back maybe in the 70s or 80s with little girls saying things like: When I grow up, I want to be a princess.

Then the payoff: Girls who dream like this end up on welfare.

Fast-forward to the so-called opt-out revolution -- women choosing to stay home with their kids instead of climbing the corporate ladder. While the numbers to this "trend" definitely do not pan out (majority of mothers are working, not staying home), there's a new book out detailing just why staying home with the kids is such a bad idea, The Feminine Mistake, by Leslie Bennetts.

While I think someone should be pointing out the economic dangers of leaving one's career behind, since happily ever after is yet another fairy tale wish that doesn't always come true.

But again, agree or disagree with staying home with children, we're still not talking about the majority of Americans. Heck, most moms I know are dealing with economic vulnerability because they're paying for childcare and working. However, even if working pays just for childcare, the payoff is an investment in your career long-term.

Sure, it's not easy working and raising children, but guess what: most people with kids do it and make it work.

Wouldn't the national discussion be better served if we took a long, hard look on why our country's priorities aren't making it easier for working families? Good childcare and flexible working conditions -- that seems to be the real fairy tale here.

Check out Bennetts's post re-posted on Alternet today about her new book, The Feminine Mistake.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Imus Is Out

The shock jock is gone. Caput. Done. The amazing girls of Rutgers sunk the loose lips of radio.

So what's up with that? Well, for one thing, our little old blog-o-sphere wouldn't let the comment die. The 24-hour news cycle sometimes does have an upside.

But the nasty language Don Imus spewed to describe the team that he maybe would have gotten away with, was upended by the press conference with the actual team . They showed up and showed him down.

"No Damn Cat, No Damn Cradle."

When my sister was diagnosed with cancer and our world got turned upside down, we'd sometimes look over at each other and say, "no damn cat, no damn cradle."

Kurt Vonnegut, who died yesterday, had a perfect way of summarizing the absurdity of life.

He rocked my world when I read his books starting at age 13, as my political self was just developing. He had a genius way of speaking that was brilliant and accessible at the same time.

Through the Reagan years, the first Bush (and even compared to his son, he still was really scary) through the latest Iraq war. And through my sister's cancer.

No damn cat, no damn cradle.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Notes from Down There

A friend writes in from Pasadena to let me know that the vaccine against the HPV virus, Gardasil, is now being offered at the college where she teaches.

Which got her thinking: why is it just offered to women?

She has a point. After all, women are not directly spreading HPV -- the virus that causes genital warts and can lead to cervical cancer -- to each other. Men are spreading it. In fact, the only way to get HPV is by having sex. With men.

Gardasil was approved by the FDA for use on women. According to their own stats, HPV is the most common STD in the U.S. with 6.2 million infections per year, and over half of all sexually active men and women become infected at some time in their lives.

Here's what the FDA says about Gardasil's use on men:

Gardasil is not approved for use in males, but the manufacturer currently has a study underway to see if it is safe and effective for them. Once the study is complete and submitted to FDA, the agency will review the data and decide whether to approve Gardasil for males.

As far as I know, most of the drugs I take have ONLY been tested on men. Why the hesitation now not to give men something that's been shown, so far, to be safe for young women? Granted, there are plenty of question marks about the long-term side effects of the drug. But if only girls get vaccinated, only half the problem is being solved.
More on Childbirth

I have been getting schooled by women who know more than me on this subject. Turns out, there are reasons that maybe going au nautral with labor is preferable. And this is all fine and good. Really, who I am to judge on what way you want your babies to come out. Upside down, hands and knees, at the hands of a surgeon.

What I guess I was trying to get at is this: I think we're in an odd place now where we have made such medical advances with birth that women feel they have failed, or not had an optimal birth if it turns out not that way it was planned. From what I hear, very few go that way anyway.

And really, who among us does want a hangover from drugs. Who does want a needle stuck in their spine. Even if it is to kill the pain. Yikes. Who does want surgery with all its complications.

In the end, all these choices come down to what you want, and what must happen. I dunno, maybe they're teaching it wrong. But in the end, ain't it grand when everyone comes out healthy and willing to do it all over again.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Update: Money does really talk. MSNBC announced they're dumping the Imus show simulcast. While the NBC head made it sound like he was shocked, shocked that Don Imus could say such things, I'm sure he was more shocked when major advertisers General Motors, GlaxoSmithKline and Procter & Gamble decided to pull their ad dollars from the show. - April 12, 2007

Radio Show Down

First of all, their hair isn't nappy.

The women of the Rutgers basketball team are anything but "nappy-headed hos," as they
were despicably labeled by radio shock jock Don Imus. From the news conference pics I saw, they all had really sleek, well-groomed dos.

Look, I'm as much for free speech as anyone else. And speech that shows what everyone
knows, that Don Imus is an ass, is fine with me. But what gets me is, he's getting fired at in every direction by people who fall over themselves to get on his show.

And even though the talk-show host with the nasty racial and sex slurs about a bad-ass Rutgers women's basketball team is being publicly chastened, with his mea culpa to the media, money talks. I mean, the guy's radio show has 2 million listeners daily. And he makes these offensive remarks and then has the biggest players in the political scene on his show. It's like he's channeling his inner frat boy with an inner desire to play interviewer.

And the guests play along. Until Mr. Imus goes and does something really dumb.

Not that these classy, angry women ever asked to be thrown into a media maelstrom from a mouthpiece that gets his jollies off by picking on some college athletes who did nothing to deserve his invective but play really well. He says this stuff for radio play. His audience eats it up, advertisers make their money, everyone goes home happy.

But Imus slurred the wrong bunch of women. They're talking back to the talking head. This greasy-headed old white guy is headed for a fall.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Childbirth, Part Deux

Someone in comments asked what I would call unmedicated, vaginal childbirth. How about unfun?

Seriously, I just think that calling one kind of birth natural over all others just doesn't seem right. Do we have "natural" wisdom-tooth removal, "natural" open-heart surgery?

Yes, childbirth without drugs certainly harks back to a certain way-back time when women just dropped children in the fields. But they also died in labor, naturally.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: it's all natural.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Childbirth, Natch

I need to say something about childbirth. Here's what you should know: I have never had a child. But I think we need to change the term for "natural" childbirth.

After all, what exactly is "unnatural childbirth"? Until we have, say, robot-assisted childbirth (and ooh, I cannot wait for that day, sign me up) I'm just going to put it out there that all childbirths are natural. Yes, some may be using drugs, or Ceasar style in a brightly lit hospital with muzak. And others may be on someone's sorry futon at home with a bunch of earth-mothers looking on.

There are many ways for this elemental act to happen. Women may experience insane amounts of pain, take days to deliver and yell till glass breaks. They may schedule a C-section. They may induce labor with drugs. They may do all these things at once. But still, I say to you, it is all
very, very natural.

But like everything else in women's lives, childbirth is something to be judged on.

The ideal in the Bay Area, from hearing my friends and coworkers talk, is an unmedicated, vaginal birth with no complications. In Brazil, the ideal is a scheduled C-section. Isn't labor hard enough without adding on the pressure to have the right sort of delivery? When really the ideal is that the mother doesn't die, which used to happen all the time during, um, natural childbirth.

And really, hats off to all the women who make this miracle of life happen all the time, and then, just days later, get up and walk around as if it's nothing but a thing. Naturally.

Friday, April 06, 2007

I Heart Feminist Art

There are two huge feminist art retrospectives opening on opposite coasts -- and I can't choose what I like about them more: that they are called Feminist Art (I mean, really, when was the last time anyone used that term for something really positive in a mainstream kind of way?) or that vagina art has made a come-back. Alternet has a great write-up of the two shows. I am going to New York this spring and can't wait to see the Judy Chicago Dinner Party. Here's a close-up of some of the vagina-patterned place settings. Gorgeous! I wish I could have registered for those when I got married.

I am always of two minds when I think of shows dedicated to women artists -- marginalized or celebrated? But then I think of all the shows that are all about art by men, and I think I shouldn't be so concerned that one show sets apart artists for their gender. Because it's not just about that. I sure would like to see all museums with a feminist art component. As the Guerrilla Girls said back in the day -- do women have to be naked to get into the Met? But it's a good first step.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Keroack's Term Ended

In the continuing world of Bush double-speak (mission accomplished, clear skies rules, healthy forests legislation, etc.) we got an anti-choice zealot in charge of family planning over at Health and Human Services. Huh? I hate to be a stickler, but abortion is still actually legal. Anyway, in a very brief and unbrilliant career, Dr. Eric Keroack abruptly resigned his post this past weekend.

From the get-go, women's rights organizations, especially Planned Parenthood, protested this appointment relentlessly. And they -- we -- were heard. As Women's eNews reported,

In his federal position, Keroack oversaw $283 million in family planning grants used to provide contraception to low-income women, but his opposition to contraception provoked 107 House Democrats and three Republicans to call for his resignation in December.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

It's Passover, Pass the Bread

So, I know the Jews have had it bad for the last 5,000 years. And I know that Passover is a really cool way to remember when the Jews were at the Egyptians' last nerve and so the Pharaoh was like enough, already, so go. And the Jews left, but so quickly they forgot to pack stuff like flour. And I mean, I know that matzoh is just a symbol of crossing the desert without a nice crusty croissant, but I mean, do I have to suffer again, just because they did?

Work with me here.

I guess what I'm saying is, wouldn't it be a better idea to eat more leavened bread the week of Passover, to celebrate that we got it good now?

OK, it was just a suggestion. Happy Passover.

p.s. I didn't forget to post yesterday -- Blogger seems to be having technical difficulties.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Is the New York Times on Glue?

If not, what would possess them to run a front-page story, not at all fact based, featuring a couple of upscale high school students from a Boston suburb trying to get into the most competitive schools in the country? Who admit that being smart is cool, but being hot is still better than being smart. OOOh, stop the presses! Young women feel pressured to look good!

OK, NY Times, when you start bashing Smith, you go too far.

The story centered around a woman, presumably a good student, whose mother attended Smith College, someone who was a role model to the daughter. She was rejected from many of her first-choice schools, but was admitted to Smith, not her first, second or even her third choice. And why not? The article doesn't say. Smith is a top school, and a name brand. What's the problem? The implication is that the same-sex school is not a draw.

While all-women’s colleges are not for everyone, and women of this girl’s mother’s age had less of a choice of schools to attend, it is still a worthy competitive option for students considering the best colleges in the country.

I recently attended my 15-year college reunion. I conducted a survey of my class, which showed that almost everyone who responded would recommend the school to their daughters, their neighbors, their local high schools. It is a school that is not stuck in its past, but continues to evolve in order to give women the most competitive edge upon graduation.

In an environment where women make up the majority of students and feel pushed out by smaller elite schools worried about gender balance, Smith is not saddled with this issue. Students aren’t isolated by their single-sex education. On the contrary, students take advantage of a 5-college exchange, a lively offering of arts and cultural activities, and yes, even parties where men are invited.

Don’t believe me? Go visit. You’ll be impressed with the multimillion dollar, state of the art student center, the engineering program, the newly renovated art museum. But most of all, you’ll feel the energy of all those smart young women, who continue to make the campus as lively and extraordinary as the days when students like Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and heck, even my class, roamed the quad.

Women’s colleges are not an anachronism. They inspired the women's movement, and may be the stomping grounds of not just the first ladies of Bush and Reagan, but the first woman president. (Hillary Clinton is a graduate of Wellesley.)

I would urge all promising young women to give these campuses a second look. It’s better than you think.

It's time to school the NY Times that these microcosm story presented like a kind of universal experience, or anything new, is not just annoying. It's not good journalism.