She had me at, “I call bullshit” (on p. 14 of the Introduction.)
“She” is Jennifer Pozner, and the book is Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV. This is actually the last book I read last year. Yes. I’m that far behind. So let me get to it.
Pozner set out to explain our “social beliefs” and how networks, advertisers and media owners exploit them for profit through reality television — and what we can do about it. I must say, she did a mighty fine job.
She drags reality television, kicking and screaming, out into the light of day and shows it for what it is. I can’t help but think of this page of photographs of women arrested for prostitution.*
On the surface, reality television looks all sparkly and pretty and maybe even a little princess-y. (That’s my nod to Peggy Orenstein. More on her book in a later post.) Or, at the very least, clean and presentable. It’s all the soft lighting, candles and makeup. (Well, until we get to Jersey Shore.) In the harsh sunlight, though, reality television looks more like the last picture on each row of photos (their eighth arrest) than the first.
Pozner doesn’t admonish anyone for watching reality television. Instead, she wants to educate everyone about media literacy, critical thinking and healthy skepticism.
She covers everything from “twisted fairy tales,” in which humiliation is the flip side of “happily ever after,” to supermodel shows, eating disorders and battered self-esteem.
She mentions a red-carpet moment at the 2009 Emmys, where Ryan Seacrest told Jenna Fischer, “Congratulations on being a size 0,” as if that were a laudatory achievement — disappearing into nothing. (Now I know why it bothered me so much how Seacrest fawned all over Jennifer Hudson this year, after she showed up everywhere thinner than ever, thanks to a contract she signed with a weight-loss company.)
Pozner only mentioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer a couple of times in the book, but I knew she was a fan, believing Buffy to be a strong, positive female character. A feminist, even. Wow, I thought. I’ve never had the slightest interest in watching that show. I was far enough removed from high school that a cast of high-school students had little appeal. (OK. So that doesn’t explain why I enjoy Glee now, although there is a tiny Joss Whedon thread there, I suppose.) Besides, I cut my eye teeth on Stephen King. I figured I’d had enough ghoulishness to last a lifetime.
But the topic kept popping up, and I started to wonder, should I at least watch one episode.
Nah. Why should I? I don’t need to waste my time on that. (*cough*)
Apparently, my possessed dvr had other ideas. (Yeah, I think I’ll start calling it Christine now.) I sat down one night in my comfy chair, checked my list of recorded shows and chose RuPaul’s Drag Race. (OK. Now you know. RuPaul is my guilty-pleasure TV.) There were several episodes, so I thought I’d settle in and catch up. Guess what came on? Buffy. I swear. On every single RuPaul show. Somebody thought I should watch some Buffy, so I did. And I could see what Pozner was saying.
She also covers everything else — from embedded advertising to unapologetic misogyny, racism and violence. She watched hundreds of hours of reality television … so I don’t have to. She went behind the scenes to explain how things work and whose interests drive reality television. Guess what. It’s not your interests. She ends with a section of media literacy and a ton of great resources.
It really is a must-read.
“If we care about independent thought, artistic integrity, and cultural diversity, we must demand that programming improve, not accept its erosion with a yawn.” (p. 295)
*This is a copy of page 246 in Carolyn B. Maloney‘s book Rumors of our Progress have been Greatly Exaggerated: Why Women’s Lives Aren’t Getting Any Easier and How We Can Make Real Progress for Ourselves and Our Daughters, which I wrote about a while ago. It was originally published by Prism magazine in 2007, and Maloney said it made the strongest case against sex trafficking she had ever seen.
“Writ small, this book is about reframing debates about work and family. … Writ large, this book is about reframing American politics. Work-family issues have not been placed at the center of an analysis of U.S. politics, but it is time to rethink the assumption that they do not belong there.”
Wow. Joan C. Williams knows how to start off a book. She knows how to end it and fill the middle, too. But I’ll let you find that out by reading Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter. (I highly recommend reading it. Williams is brilliant.)
Litigation has accomplished a lot, but federal employment law cannot give us social subsidies or workers’ rights. The only way we can get those things is through legislation. The only way we can get that legislation is by very significantly shifting the political culture in the United States.
The only way to shift the political culture is to start a national conversation about gender pressures on men, she said. Until we do that, we won’t see much progress for women.
Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock, authors of Mommy Guilt, will understand this book. Even though their book is about mothers, most of the work they do is about parenting. They spend a lot of time reminding others that parenting is something both mothers and fathers do.
Statistics show that both mothers and fathers in the United States feel the scales overwhelmingly tip in favor of work and short-change their family lives.
When asked, American parents — 90% of American mothers and 95% of American fathers — say that they wish they had more time with their children. These levels are sharply lower in Europe. (p. 2, Introduction)
Why are these levels lower in Europe? Because European countries structure workplaces around their workforces, recognizing that everyone has a right to a personal life.
They have a saying in Norway, “We don’t live to work, we work to live.” It’s just the opposite in America, a Norwegian might say, as he straps his baby on his back for a mountain hike — one of many during his nine weeks of “pappa leave.” When the leave is over, he will return to his 35-hour workweek, which enables him to pick up his child from daycare in the afternoon and still have several hours of family time before bedtime. Every day.
A Swedish father wrote a guest post for me about his experience as a parent in Sweden. He asked three years ago, regarding non-existent benefits in the United States, “… how do we change the system to make it easier to combine children, family and work?”
He’s not the only one who’s been asking that question. Many have been asking how to get family-friendly legislation passed. Williams looks at why we haven’t been able to get it. To answer the first question, we must first have an answer to the second question.
For one, there’s a class culture gap that polarizes employees and keeps them from coming together on specific issues.
In reality, most companies on that list don’t want to offer comprehensive benefits or even one guaranteed sick day for each employee, based on lobbying efforts on their behalf by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
As the largest lobbying organiztion in the United States, the Chamber spent $91.7 million on lobbying in 2008 and $144.5 million in 2009. It — along with the companies it respresents — opposes any efforts to expand Family and Medical Leave Act leave or to mandate paid sick leave. It opposed a bill that would give employees seven paid sick days a year. It opposed SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) and the Employee Free Choice Act. It aggressively opposes union-backed proposals to increase minimum wage.
Some of these “listed” companies are multinational corporations with offices not only in the United States but also in Norway and Sweden. Benefits for white-collar American workers at these companies might be better than most: six weeks of paid maternity leave (and maybe up to a week of paternity leave for fathers), lactation rooms and maybe they can even buy vacation time. (Yes, that was touted as a “benefit.”)
Their employees in Norway and Sweden, however, get paid family leave of one to three years, the option of part-time work, shorter workweeks, paid sick leave and paid vacation. Why? Because all of that is legally required in those countries.
In Europe, … paid leaves are financed through social insurance, which leaves European employers more competitive than U.S. employers, for two reasons. First, European businesses do not have to pay the steep 30% ‘benefits load’ — the cost of a benefits package as a percentage of a worker’s salary — that many U.S. businesses pay. Second, because European employers are not responsible for covering the cost of paid leave themselves, they can afford to replace the worker on leave. In contrast, when U.S. employers pay the wages of workers on leave, often they simply heap leave-takers’ responsibilities onto their remaining workers, with no compensating increase in pay. This practice fuels workplace resentment. (p. 35)
In the United States, “The notion that having a child is a private frolic that does not deserve community support is implausible. There is no reason to expect that society should be able to privatize the costs of raising the next generation of citizens — from which all society will benefit — onto the backs of the women who bear them. This habit impoverishes women economically and men emotionally.” (p. 107)
Williams finally, finally, finally asks (and answers) the same question I’ve been asking for years. It’s not, “What’s wrong with women?” as Leslie Bennetts, Linda Hirshman and several others have asked. It’s, “What’s wrong with the workplace?”
In the first chapter, Williams expands on work she did in 2006 on a paper called “Opt Out” or Pushed Out? How the Press Covers Work/Family Conflict, The Untold Story of Why Women Leave the Workforce, which debunked the “opt-out revolution” myth perpetuated by media reports.
Even better for me, at that time, was a journalist debunking the myth — which had been perpetuated by journalists — for an audience of journalists when E.J. Graff wrote The Opt-Out Myth essay for the Columbia Journalism Review in 2007.
Graff explained: “Here’s why this matters: if journalism repeatedly frames the wrong problem, then the folks who make public policy may very well deliver the wrong solution. If women are happily choosing to stay home with their babies, that’s a private decision. But it’s a public policy issue if most women (and men) need to work to support their families, and if the economy needs women’s skills to remain competitive. It’s a public policy issue if schools, jobs, and other American institutions are structured in ways that make it frustratingly difficult, and sometimes impossible, for parents to manage both their jobs and family responsibilities.”
And how are American institutions structured? With masculine workplace norms.
… although work-family conflict traditionally is associated with women, a prime mover of work-family conflict is masculinity. Inflexible workplaces have proved so hard to change, in significant part, because of the intertwining of masculinity with work schedules and current understandings of work commitment. (p. 33)
What do masculine workplace norms get us? No paid family leave. Long hours. Unequal pay. And motherhood as the strongest trigger for gender bias.
As a culture, we need to stop lying to ourselves, stop pretending that the ‘choices’ thrust on us by outmoded norms are actually choices made of free will. We need to stop ignoring the fact that the available choices are dismally inadequate. (p. 40)
I couldn’t help thinking of the movie 9 to 5 when reading this book. Didn’t Judy, Violet and Doralee take care of flexible work schedules and job sharing 30 years ago? Sure, they had to poison, hogtie and hold captive their sexist boss. But, hey, they got the job done, right?
Well, OK. Real life is much harsher. Many employees are “one sick child away from being fired.” They are often forced to make the impossible decision to choose between work or their children. When they pick their children (because they’re sick and daycare or school won’t take them or, worse, they’re headed to the emergency room), employees are often fired.
This is not just a working-mother issue. It affects fathers, too. Current research shows that this kind of inflexibility is not just an issue for women:
“Roughly 55% of the arbitration that WorkLife Law studied involved men.” (p. 56)
But it’s time to realize that the workplace is a “gender factory” constructed for “ideal workers” without family responsibilities.
Let’s begin with pregnancy. The only reason pregnancy represents a problem for employed women is because the ideal-worker norm is designed around someone with a man’s body (no time off for childbearing) and men’s traditional life patterns (no time off for child rearing or other care work). Once again, the issue is not whether men and women are really different; the issue is why this particular difference matters in this context. As Martha Minow pointed out long ago, men are as different from women as women are from men. What gives women’s difference salience in the workplace is the weight of unstated masculine norms. (p. 129)
“The ideal-worker standard and norm of work devotion push mothers to the margins of economic life. And a society that marginalizes its mothers impoverishes its children. That is why the paradigmatic poor family in the United States is a single mother and her child.” (p. 103) Emphasis added.
Williams does a great job of breaking down the differences between classes and explaining the need to bridge those gaps and rebuild an alliance between progressives and “the Missing Middle.”
“The most refined fuel for class resentments is the culture of casual insults leveled by progressives toward the white working class. Changing U.S. politics will require an embargo on such insults.” (p. 152)
“As Theda Skocpol pointed out nearly a decade ago, progressives tend to focus so intently on poverty that they miss Americans in the middle of the income distribution. Skocpol finds it ‘puzzling’ that ‘our policy debates deal so little with the fate of working families of modest means.’ She recommended ‘a new family-oriented populism’ that offers supoprt for working families on the type that exists in Europe, namely, universal programs, rather than means-tested programs that are limited to the poor. Her analysis has been largely ignored.” (p. 161)
Maybe it’s time to stop ignoring this.
Williams challenges cultural fantasies about feminism (especially Sarah Palin‘s version of it — the five pages she spends deconstructing Palin alone is worth the price of the book), and she says she wants to start a national conversation about gender issues.
I just finished reading Food, Inc.: How Industrial Food is Making us Sicker, Fatter and Poorer — And What You Can Do About it, edited by Karl Weber and compiled as a companion piece to the movie, which I also just watched. I actually watched the movie (by Robert Kenner) first, not realizing that was the correct order of things.
I’ve read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, watched King Corn: You Are What You Eat, a documentary by Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, and read quite a bit on food, the food industry in the United States and food safety (or lack of it). Food, Inc., gathers much of the information out there and puts it all in one place.
In any case, if you eat, you might be interested in this book and film. The film was done first. The book contains information from people who weren’t in the film. Schlosser says the film and the book are not just about food. They’re also about threats to the First Amendment and the corrupting influence of centralized power.
Contributors include (listed in order they appear in the book)
Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal from 2001 and the movie in 2006
Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food
I think the information provided by this book and film is very important, though not half as fun as reading Barbara Kingsolver’s take on food issues in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which I’m reading now. In fact, her book was written before Food, Inc., and I wondered, hey, did they read Kingsolver? Because if they didn’t, they should. But sure enough. She was listed in the “to learn more” section at the end of the book.
(Blue Cross Blue Shield started a site called Get Health Reform Right earlier this year to express the insurance industry’s wishes regarding health-care reform, such as, “Creating a new government plan would cause the employer-provided health insurance system that 160 million Americans rely on today to unravel.”)
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius released a statement Nov. 18, saying, “I would be very surprised if any private insurance company changed its mammography coverage decisions as a result of this action.” Anyone who says the task force doesn’t influence what private insurance companies do regarding mammograms needs to read the task force’s Web site, which explains that one of its goals is to inform and develop coverage decisions.
The EPCs review all relevant scientific literature on clinical, behavioral, and organization and financing topics to produce evidence reports and technology assessments. These reports are used for informing and developing coverage decisions, quality measures, educational materials and tools, guidelines, and research agendas. The EPCs also conduct research on methodology of systematic reviews. [Emphasis added is mine.]
Besides, where do they think the current mammogram guidelines come from?
To come up with this most recent recommendation, the task force looked at research done in China and Russia.
The research in China (“Randomized Trial of Breast Self-Examination in Shanghai: Final Results,” published Oct. 2, 2002, in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Oxford University Press) found that “the efficacy of breast self-examination for decreasing breast cancer mortality is unproven,” based on 266 breast-cancer deaths (135 in the main group and 131 in the control group) over 10 years. The study was conducted from October 1989 to October 1991, and women were followed through December 2000. The task force apparently took the difference of only four breast-cancer deaths to show that breast self-examination plays no part in saving women’s lives from breast cancer.
However, the authors of that study also said, “This was a trial of the teaching of BSE, not the practice of BSE.” They went on to say:
It should not be inferred from the results of this study that there would be no reduction in risk of dying from breast cancer if women practiced BSE competently and frequently. It is possible that highly motivated women could be taught to detect cancers that develop between regular screenings, and that the diligent practice of BSE would enhance the benefit of a screening program.
Yet, the task force recommends that physicians stop teaching patients how to do breast self-examinations.
The articles about the research in Russia are all published in Russian. Unless someone on the task force can read and understand Russian, or unless the task force had the articles translated, it’s fair to say that nobody on the task force read anything other than abstracts on Medline, which provide incredibly limited information, except for dates of publication.
“Your Dove purchase helps build self-esteem,” says the Dove ad on BlogHer‘s site.
No, it doesn’t.
“My Dove purchase” helps build Dove’s profits. Period. Dove (or its parent company, multinational corporation Unilever) doesn’t care about little girls. It’s a corporation. It’s incapable of having feelings. Its sole purpose is to earn a profit.
No matter what else I see from Unilever, I can’t get the Axe women out of my head. Unilever portrays women like that on one hand and professes to care about girls’ self-esteem on the other. It’s hypocritical and impossible to take seriously.
“Cause” marketing works profitable wonders for corporations. For example, Campbell’s Soup turns its cans pink “for breast cancer awareness” in October, doubling its sales. While it earns millions from its pink cans, it sends a mere $250,000 to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Unilever earns millions through its Dove self-esteem “cause” marketing campaign. It sends $500,000 to an IRS-qualified non-profit organization, and it gets to claim that amount and all associated costs as deductible advertising expenses.
Instead of entering a UPC code to get Dove to send $1 to Girl Scouts, Boys & Girls Clubs or Girls Inc., if 500,000 people (Dove’s donation limit is $500,000, total) each sent a $5 check directly to each of the organizations, that would add up to $2.5 million for each, a total of $7.5 million — way more than Unilever/Dove would ever claim as a tax writeoff “donate.”
As much as I try to see good in a “positive message” that tells girls they’re beautiful, I can’t help but consider the source. I can’t erase the Axe women from my brain.
It’s not clear to me what The Shriver Report’s point is, except it doesn’t seem to be a call to action. It does, however, declare the battle of the sexes over. It’s all rather retro to dredge up a “battle” that saw Billie Jean King defeat Bobby Riggs in a tennis match, which was dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes.” That “battle” was essentially a publicity stunt.
Is that what this is? A publicity stunt? If so, to what end?
Established in 1961, the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women was a compromise by John F. Kennedy, who didn’t want to alienate his supporters who were against the Equal Rights Amendment. Maybe The Shriver Report is a compromise to its sponsors, advisers and the rest of corporate America, which is adamantly opposed to legislation that requires equality and/or benefits of any kind.
At least 139 countries provide paid sick leave to employees, but this “woman’s nation” does not.
Almost 100 countries require employers to provide paid annual leave, but this “woman’s nation” does not.
Women in this “woman’s nation” get the same amount of paid maternity leave as women do in Lesotho, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland: zero.
Men in this “woman’s nation” get the same amount of paid paternity leave: zero.
It is legal in most states of this “woman’s nation” for employers to discriminate against mothers.
While illegal, women in this “woman’s nation” deal with pregnancy discrimination every day.
At least 84 countries have a maximum length workweek, but this “woman’s nation” — whose workweek length was second only to Japan’s hours among industrialized countries — does not.
At least 34 countries guarantee discretionary leave from work — Greece and Switzerland offer paid leave specifically for children’s educational needs — but this “woman’s nation” does not.
Women in this “woman’s nation” still earn less than men do, and mothers earn less than anyone.
Knowing all that, it’s confusing to see Shriver on national television talking about flex time as if that were the most pressing issue American women faced every day. Imagine my surprise when I read the report and saw things like equal pay mentioned.
Even so, what does it mean that American women comprise half the workforce? Nothing. Especially if women have no power (or very limited power) to implement change or write policy. It means nothing until women make up half of Congress, half the boards of directors and half the executive teams that run American businesses.
How do some of The Shriver Report sponsors and advisory-committee members measure up in terms of women in positions of power? Let’s see.
That’s how I feel about The Shriver Report, only worse. Yes, the Rockefeller Foundation/TIME survey of 3,400 people provided new data, as highlighted in a special report in TIME, The State of the American Woman, What Women Want Now by Nancy Gibbs, Oct. 26, 2009. But the rest of the essays feel so out of date and certainly undeserving of a breathless media blitz. Maybe it’s “news” to someone who hasn’t read a thing on the subject in 30 years. But for others it might feel as stale and out of place as the term “battle of the sexes.”
Oprah Winfrey says in the epilogue that the report’s intent is to start a conversation. Hello? When she and Shriver weren’t listening, the conversation had already begun.
Simon & Schuster published The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything edited by Heather Boushey and Ann O’Leary, with Karen Skelton, Ed Paisley, Leslie Miller, and Laura Nicholson Oct. 20, 2009. The eBook includes an introductory chapter by Maria Shriver. It lists for $20, but I got my copy for $16 with a $4 discount code.
Obama “praised the organization for its research,” though it’s unclear if she read any of the research or looked beyond a press release. If she had, she would have found layers upon layers of conflict of interest and even direct opposition to her husband’s policies.
Obama also said that “some 22 million working women don’t have one paid sick day.”
Many of the CVWF members would keep it that way through lobbying efforts on their behalf by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with which they are affiliated through local chambers. The Chamber opposes any efforts to expand Family and Medical Leave Act leave or mandate paid sick leave. It opposed a bill that would give employees seven paid sick days a year. It opposed SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) and the Employee Free Choice Act.