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Books: Reshaping the Work-Family Debate

December 5, 2010 | Books,Devra Renner,Economics,Education,Ethics,Family,Getting sick,Journalism,Leslie Bennetts,Linda Hirshman,Motherhood,Norway,Parenting,Politics,PR,Research,Sarah Palin,U.S. government,Vacation,Work,Working Mother

“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.)

It’s what she said in a Wilson Center discussion with Barbara Ehrenreich in September, though, that really gets to the heart of the matter of this book:

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.

For another — and Williams doesn’t discuss this in her book — companies don’t want legislation. They want to handle “family-friendly benefits” on their own. That means offering very little with a big splash of advertising and PR to make some magazine’s “best companies” list.

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?”

Somewhat “coming full circle,” Williams starts with Lisa Belkin’s 2003 article, The Opt-Out Revolution, and I learned about Williams’ new book from Belkin’s more recent article, Calling Mr. Mom? and blog post of the same name.

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.

A conversation.

Is that enough? Who participates? Then what?

Posted by Becky @ 7:50 pm | 8 Comments  

Books: Food, Inc.

March 31, 2010 | Advertising,Books,Economics,Education,Ethics,Family,Food,Health,Journalism,MSM,Politics,PR,Research,Safety,School,U.S. government

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)

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.

Posted by Becky @ 6:00 am | 3 Comments  

Mammogram guidelines

November 19, 2009 | Benefits,Breast cancer,Death,Economics,Ethics,Health,Medical,MSM,Politics,PR,Research,Statistics,U.S. government

Women should now get mammograms starting at age 50, not 40.

Who says?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. It recently published its recommendations in the Nov. 17, 2009, issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, published 24 times a year by the American College of Physicians.

Who is the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force?

It’s a panel of 16 people from the medical community and 14 “evidence-based practice centers,” which includes medical-research universities and institutions and — at the top of the list — Blue Cross Blue Shield.

(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.

Others weigh in

Posted by Becky @ 7:53 pm | 5 Comments  

Michelle Obama speaks in whose voice?

May 8, 2009 | Advertising,Barack Obama,Benefits,Bright Horizons,Corporate Voices for Working Families,Economics,Ethics,Journalism,Michelle Obama,Parenting,PNC,Politics,PR,Procter & Gamble,Research,Work,Working Mother

Michelle Obama spoke at the Corporate Voices for Working Families annual meeting Thursday at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. CVWF also released its report, Innovative Workplace Flexibility Options for Hourly Workers, which claims to show “that flexibility for lower wage hourly and nonexempt workers is being used effectively in a variety of business settings.”

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.

Companies participating in the CVWF study were Bright Horizons, Marriott, PNC, Procter & Gamble and another company that remained anonymous. Bright Horizons and Marriott sit on the CVWF board of trustees. They and PNC are corporate partners, and Marriott is also a funding partner with CVWF.

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.

Posted by Becky @ 6:25 pm | 2 Comments  

Books: Rumors of our Progress have been Greatly Exaggerated by Carolyn B. Maloney

August 7, 2008 | Advertising,Books,Breast cancer,Colbert Report,Colin Powell,Economics,Ethics,Family,Health,Media,Movies,MSM,Music,Parenting,Pink,Politics,PR,Race,Research,SLBTM,Statistics,Television,U.S. government,Verizon,Work,Working Mother

I just finished reading 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 by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y. I received a review copy from the publisher, Modern Times, an imprint of Rodale, Inc.

As I was getting ready to write something about the book, I ran across Maloney’s July 29, 2008, appearance on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report. At first, I thought I would just include it with other links, but the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Better Know a District – New York’s 14th – Carolyn Maloney
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election Fox News

Is it really funny that women get fired for lactating?

Here’s a quote from Maloney’s book.

I also heard numerous stories about difficulties in the workplace, including one woman whose male colleagues mooed outside the door as she expressed milk to take home and another woman being banished to do so in her car across the street from her office.

I didn’t laugh once while reading her book, but maybe I missed something. Exactly which issue that she wrote about was funny? Rape? Domestic violence? Burkas? Breast cancer? Or maybe prostitution? That link goes to a 2007 feature in Prism magazine, which Maloney reprinted on page 246 of her book and said it made the strongest case against sex trafficking she had ever seen.

Depictions of prostitution in the media and popular culture (including the movie Pretty Woman) can be grossly misleading, even glamorous. In fact, street prostitutes are typically trafficked, exploited, battered, and often force-fed drugs by slavemaster pimps. This series of mugshots of street prostitutes, which documents their first arrest to their eighth, illustrates the reality of life on the street, which more closely resembles a descent into hell than a Hollywood movie.

Is that funny? If not, I’m confused about why one of the first places she went to discuss her book was Comedy Central.

The blurbs on the back of her book are written by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Gloria Steinem, Pat Schroeder, Ellie Smeal and Arianna Huffington. (Geraldine Ferraro was also included in the online “praise” section for the book.) Were they slapping their knees and giggling at the sight of Colbert using a breast pump while Maloney smiled and kept her cool? If not, does that mean they just can’t take a joke?

I’ve written about the blurred lines between celebrity and politics. It’s as if something has shifted. Instead of looking back as former government officials (elected or not), they now have to prove they don’t take themselves too seriously while they’re in office, no matter how “serious” the positions they hold. They have to prove that they get the joke. Hey, they’re even in on the joke because so many things that happen in Washington are, well, a joke. Is that it?

Maybe I just don’t get the whole Inside the Beltway atmosphere. Is it really just a non-stop college kegger where everyone has to hit the beer bong and slam shots until they puke their guts out to prove they can keep up?

Sigh.

About the book

About the author

Excerpt

Maloney’s book is a fairly comprehensive list of women’s issues — what’s been done, what’s been undone and what still needs to be done. For those who regularly keep up on these issues, not much of the information is new, but it’s interesting to read about the issues from Maloney’s perspective as a policymaker.

She put a “take-action guide” at the end of each chapter, providing contact information for some of the groups and organizations working on specific issues. Her goal is to convince readers to do something, anything: “I hope to persuade you that any action in support of your beliefs matters, whether it is large or small, brief or time-consuming, successful or unsuccessful.”

She included women’s personal stories as well as her own story and a wealth of information from other sources.

She draws upon the work of Martha Burk (Cult of Power: Sex Discrimination in Corporate America and What Can Be Done About It), Ann Crittenden (The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued), Jody Heymann (The Work, Family, and Equity Index: Where Does the United States Stand Globally?), MomsRising (The Motherhood Manifesto: What America’s Moms Want – and What To Do About It), Evelyn Murphy and E.J. Graff (Getting Even: Why Women Don’t Get Paid Like Men–And What to Do About It), Joan Williams (Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It), Marie Wilson (Closing the Leadership Gap: Add Women, Change Everything), among many others.

She also included some of her own research and highlighted inconsistencies between cultural myth and everyday reality.

Maloney mentioned Morgan Stanley, which settled a class-action sex-discrimination case for $54 million and then another one for $46 million, yet it consistently appears on Working Mother magazine’s 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers list, a topic I have written about many times.

You might think that Morgan Stanley would work especially hard to eradicate sex discrimination after so costly [$54 million] an episode. But the firm settled another class action sex discrimination suit in 2007 for $46 million — bringing its overall sex discrimination price tag to an even $100 million. That sounds like a lot, but it only amounts to a few good days of trading.

Despite these incidents, Morgan Stanley has been cited numerous times by Working Mother magazine as one of the 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers. That makes me wonder how bad things are at other companies.

While she pointed out the inconsistency of the companies that appear in Working Mother with their employment track record, she listed in the take-action guide the National Association for Female Executives, which might be a perfectly fine organization. But it falls under the umbrella of Working Mother Media, which publishes Working Mother magazine, whose 100 Best list is — well, let’s just say I’m highly skeptical of the whole thing.

She also gave this example.

If you drive your Mitsubishi to the airport after filling its tank at Sunoco, board a Boeing-built plane for a United Airlines flight, use your Verizon cell phone service to call your spouse before you take off, and then bite into a Krispy Kreme doughnut, you’ve just enriched six household-name companies that have settled or lost sex discrimination cases and lawsuits in recent years.

Right. At least one of those companies — Verizon — makes Working Mother magazine’s 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers list year after year.

In the take-action guide at the end of the “Health Care That’s Always There” chapter, she recommended (among others) Dove’s Campain for Real Beauty as a way to “start health education early by teaching our young and teenaged girls about issues that affect them.” If you scratch the surface of Dove, you’ll find a wee bit of image manipulation of its own.

Unilever is the maker of Dove products (and major “research” funder), which are the basis for the Campaign for Real Beauty and its self-esteem education for young girls. Unilever also makes and markets Axe products, which exist in a parallel universe where the V.I.X.E.N.S. (Very Interactive Xtremely Entertaining Naughty Supermodels) and Bom Chicka Wah Wahs don’t have “real beauty” or self-esteem issues.

In “The Pretty Woman Myth” chapter, Maloney wrote about misleading portrayals of prostitution in popular culture and mentioned that the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2006 went to ‘It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,'” whose lyrics include:

Wait I got a snow bunny, and a black girl too
You pay the right price and they’ll both do you
That’s the way the game goes, gotta keep it strictly pimpin
Gotta have my hustle tight, makin change off these women, yeah

I remember when that happened, thinking, what?!? There was George Clooney, smugly patting himself on the back for Hollywood being “out of touch” for “giving Hattie McDaniel an Oscar when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters.” That was in 1939. Just how long was it, dear George, until the next black person was so honored? That would be 1948, then 1964, then 1982, then 2002. And just how far has Hollywood come, George, by glorifying “the black man” … as a pimp, not to mention portraying women of all colors as simply a venue for making money? Hollywood’s out of touch, George. Ya think?

Which brings me back around to the Comedy Central appearance.

If it’s a matter of reaching a younger audience? C’mon, they deserve more credit than that. It’s not only “the kids” watching Comedy Central, and “the younger audience” is watching much more than just Comedy Central. And there are tons of young, vibrant, intelligent voices on the Internet. Dust off the mouse and start clicking.

Besides, there’s not a damn thing that’s funny about this book. Just like the issues Maloney discusses in the book — the media and popular-culture myths that harm the efforts to improve the lives of real people — Maloney’s Comedy Central appearance did nothing but belittle and mock some very serious societal issues. The people behind the stories about sex discrimination, prostitution and unacceptably high infant-mortality rates (to name just a few) deserve much more than to become the butt of a comedian’s joke.

Related posts
Politics: All the world’s a stage
Colin Powell goes from class act to class clown
Rumors of housekeeping have been greatly exaggerated*
Categories: Working Mother
Know your Working Mother press releases
What Working Mother magazine won’t tell you, part 1
Will you let Working Mother magazine speak for you?
What Working Mother magazine won’t tell you: Abbott
Psst! Scientists prove girls prefer pink! Pass it on!
SLBTM: Unilever/Dove’s ‘real beauty’***

Posted by Becky @ 4:10 pm | 18 Comments  

Rumors of housekeeping have been greatly exaggerated*

August 1, 2008 | Journalism,Media,MSM,Research,Statistics

This headline was on the front page of my newspaper this morning: “‘Clean Enough’ Is New Housekeeping Standard.” My newspaper didn’t archive it online, but it’s a McClatchy article written by Federica Narancio.

In my own little upside-down world, I imagine that instead of this …

Many women who work outside the home, including those with helpful kids and husbands, have come up with a new housekeeping standard, according to sociologists and family relations experts. It’s called “clean enough.”

the first paragraph would read like this …

Many men who work outside the home, including those with helpful kids and wives, have come up with a new housekeeping standard, according to sociologists and family relations experts. It’s called “clean enough.”

And y’all’d be going, “And this is news?”

Right.

*I totall ripped off the headline for this post from a book I just started reading: Rumors of our Progress have been Greatly Exaggerated by Carolyn B. Maloney.

One of the first things I highlighted came after she talked about $54 million damages Morgan Stanley paid in a sex-discrimination case, and she pointed out that the cost might have made the company work especially hard to do away with discrimination. Yet, in 2007, Morgan Stanley settled another sex-discrimination case for $46 million.

Despite these incidents, Morgan Stanley has been cited numerous times by Working mother magazine as one of the 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers. That makes me wonder how bad things are at other companies.

Hmm. Seems Rep. Maloney can smell the BS.

Posted by Becky @ 7:54 pm | 3 Comments  

Oy To The World, the Chinese Is Come, Let Jews Receive Their Food!

December 25, 2007 | Books,Family,Friends,Guest blogger,Guest post,Middle East,Movies,My neighborhood,Opinion,Research,Stuff,Weird things,Working Mother

Aviva and Devra are in da house!  Merry Christmas Ya’ll!   Maybe you aren’t expecting a holiday greeting from the Two Jew Crew, but when Becky asked if we would guest blog, we requested Christmas. Why? Because we know You People our Christian mishpuka should be able to spend time with their families, so we shall work today so you don’t have to!  (So when Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur roll around return the fave. K?)

Jews and Chinese Food.  Add Christmas to the mix and you get a Holy Trinity  representing a Trifecta of Treyf. Why is this night different from any other night? Why on this night do Jews eat at Shun Lee instead of at home?  From Christmas Eve to Christmas Day Jews are making their Kung Pao pilgrimages.  Even Working Mother Magazine  Jews can’t tell you where this longstanding holiday observance originated, we only know it’s tradition. It’s how we roll.   Everyone should  know more about Jewish holiday observances beyond, “They tried to annihilate us. We survived. Let’s Eat!”  If Becky where here, she would no doubt be calling out the people striving to be our nation’s leader to tell us why Jews eat Chinese food On Christmas. 

 Hillary should know.  Fred Thompson may have the secret.  Is Barack is just one consonant away from unlocking the mystery?  Oh hell. Move over politics! Let’s dish…

Believe it or not, the combination of Jews and Chinese food is an ancient custom – OK, not biblical ancient nor is it an Ancient Chinese Secret, but it does appear to go back to the late 1800’s – no putzing around!

In lower Manhattan, immigrant Jews opened delicatessens for other Jews,Italians ran restaurants for other Italians, and Germans had many places serving primarily Germans. But Chinese restaurants welcomed everyone. As a result, even in the 1890s both Jews and Italians usually felt more at home in Chinese restaurants than they did in each other’s eateries.” (Originally published; “New York Jews and Chinese Food: The Social Construction of an Ethnic Pattern” by Gaye Tuchman and Harry G. Levine) 

Fast forward a few hundred years and it is still generally true.  Chinese food does not include dairy products. The fear of mixing a little dairy with your meat isn’t an issue. (You say, “Pork!” We say, “Kosher house, not Kosher stomach.”)  Look, Chinese food  became a status symbol for our people during The Depression – immigrant Jews who ate out at Chinese restaurants identified themselves and others as being chic and sophisticated-why should we want to change that practice?  Is it so terrible? Who does it hurt? Don’t you want your mother to be happy? 

Nowadays, you can find many eateries willing to open their doors to make a buck on Christmas, and you can find quite a few folks  who would rather buy a meal instead of cook one.  However, it wasn’t so long ago, Chinese restaurants were about the only option for eating out on Christmas day.  Another bonus to Chinese food on Christmas is the holiday repast is available before or after the matinee. Just because Christmas is not a Jewish holiday, does this mean no Jewish observance? Feh. Whatever your observance, we wish you Good Fortune and a very Merry Christmas!

Posted by Devra and Aviva @ 8:43 pm | 1 Comment  

Doctor questions accuracy of published research

September 14, 2007 | Ethics,Journalism,MSM,Research

What perfect timing. Today’s Wall Street Journal ran an article about John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist who says most published research findings are wrong. He published an essay, “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False,” in 2005. 

Posted by Becky @ 8:11 pm | Comments  

Psst! Scientists prove girls prefer pink! Pass it on!

September 13, 2007 | Ethics,Journalism,MSM,PR,Research,Statistics

Well, not really. But I made you look, didn’t I?

Maybe you missed the headlines a couple of weeks ago about research that claims to show that girls like pink, but they caught my eye. It must have been all the pretty pink headlines and flowery language [girly sigh]. Maybe I’m making a magenta mountain out of a muted-pink molehill, but let’s just say this were a study on, say, the war in Iraq. I believe this little molehill indicates a much larger problem in journalism that goes like this:

  • Take a press release.
  • Rearrange a few words to “earn” a byline (with zero reporting and zero fact-checking) and, if you feel like it, add a witty sentence or two.
  • Slap a headline on it.
  • Call it news.

Let’s start with the study. 

Researchers from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom published the results of a color-preference study on 208 college-age (20-26) volunteers in the Aug. 21, 2007, issue of Current Biology. The article was announced in a press release issued by Cell Press, which publishes Current Biology and several other scientific journals. Current Biology is a peer-reviewed journal, which means that materials submitted for publication are reviewed or “refereed” by a panel of experts in the same field to determine if they meet the standards of their scientific discipline.

Current Biology has 1,709 subscribers, and it’s distributed at about 30 conferences a year. At $179 a year, I doubt your average news consumer would subscribe just to read this article. I doubt they would even pay the $30 I did to download and read the 1,297-word article (a couple of pages) and its supplemental data. Apparently none of the media outlets that published the press release would either, although they really should have.

Or maybe it should be freely available, as Bad Science blogger, Dr. Ben Goldacre (who has a few things to say about the article), points out:

Unless you have an Athens login, you are not allowed to read what the researchers actually said, instead of what the media said they said. Because although they are publicly funded academics at the University of Newcastle, and although this work has been publicised in every major mainstream media outlet in Britain and the US, and although the journal is edited by academics you fund, and paid for by subscriptions from university libraries … the actual academic article is behind a paywall, with a payment model geared towards institutions, rather than interested individuals.

Bad luck you. I guess you have to rely on journalists.

According to the supplemental data, researchers tested three groups:

  • 1) 90 subjects (28 British females, 25 British males, 18 Chinese females and 19 Chinese males) tested on 24 colors in three hue groups
  • 2) 35 subjects (21 British females and 14 British males) tested on 44 colors in six hue groups
  • 3) 83 subjects (43 British females and 40 British males) tested on 16 colors in three hue groups

Why the tests weren’t exactly the same in each setting, researchers didn’t say, and nobody asked. When were the tests done? 2007? 2006? 2005? Researchers didn’t say, and nobody asked.

The first group also completed the Bem Sex Role Inventory, which scores feminity and masculinity based on subjects rating themselves from 1 to 7 on a list of adjectives and phrases, such as self-reliantyieldingdominant and soft-spoken. Why? Researchers didn’t say, although they found a “significant” correlation between feminity scores (of 46 females) and the preference test. Why this group and not the others? Researchers didn’t say. Nobody asked.

Cell’s press release said, quoting researcher Anya Hurlbert:

The universal favorite color for all people appears to be blue.

“On top of that, females have a preference for the red end of the red-green axis, and this shifts their color preference slightly away from blue towards red, which tends to make pinks and lilacs the most preferred colors in comparison with others.”

Actually, Hurlbert wrote in the Current Biology article:

On average, all subjects give positive weight to the S-(L+M) contrast component (“bluish” contrasts), with British females weighting it significantly higher than British males. (Emphasis added.)

That means 92 women preferred blue even more than 79 men. Do we need a new headline?

Girls like blue even more than boys do!

The article also said, “On average, all males give large negative weight to the L-M [red-green] axis, whereas all females weight it slightly positively.” (Emphasis added.) New headline?

Boys hate red; girls think it’s OK

To rule out cultural influences on color preference, researchers also tested 18 Chinese women and 19 Chinese men. Researchers thought they would get a higher preference for red from the Chinese participants because, they said, red signifies “good luck” in Chinese culture. (I don’t know. Isn’t that like saying the Irish like green?) Results were similar, thus proving to researchers that color preference had nothing to do with culture and everything to do with biology.

Which brings us to this gem:

We speculate that this [girls’ preference for pink] sex difference arose from sex-specific functional specializations in the evolutionary division of labour. The hunter-gatherer theory proposes that female brains should be specialized for gathering-related tasks and is supported by studies of visual spatial abilities.

“Gatherer” females apparently had to identify red fruit among all the green leaves and be highly aware of changes in skin color because of their role as “empathizers.” Sooooo … it’s a scientific fact that a small group of 20-something 21st century women “prefer” reddish hues over men who dislike it because of evolution. Remember, cultural influences were removed as a factor because the Chinese participants didn’t like red any more than the others, even though, according to researchers, they should have.

All-righty.

Here‘s what one blogger had to say about the scientific aspects of the article. Here’s what the Bad Science blogger/doctor said about it. (Red Jenny tipped me off to Bad Science.)

What’s the point of the research, and how will results be used? Researchers didn’t say, except that they plan to study color preference in infants, and perhaps they need funding for that. Except that research apparently has already been done, according to a May 8, 2005, article by BBC News. Even so, nobody asked.

Who’s funding this research and why? Researchers didn’t say, and nobody asked.

However, Unilever was acknowledged for supporting co-researcher Yazhu Ling with a studentship in a 2002 article in Perception and a 2004 article in the Journal of Vision. Unilever was also listed under “support” for a presentation on color perceptionby Hurlbert and Ling at the 29 European Conference on Visual Perception in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Aug. 21, 2006.

While studentships are usually rare because of limited funding, Unilever’s studentship funding seems to be plentiful, offered at Cambridge University, the University of Manchester, the University of Nottingham, the Imperial College London, the University College London, and University of Newcastle upon Tyne, to name a few. Unilever even established its own “world-leading research group” by investing £13M (about $26 million) in the Unilever Centre for Molecular for Science Informatics at Cambridge University, opening a new building in 2000.

Unilever provides financial support for research through its Port Sunlight office in Liverpool, which boasts more than “700 scientists and engineers from various backgrounds and nationalities working to create innovative products for consumers around the world. The global brands our teams contribute to include Dove, Sunsilk, Lynx/Axe, Cif, Persil/Omo and Domestos.” This work, the Web site continues, results in more than 100 patent filings and about 140 peer-reviewed papers and conference presentations. Oh, and by the way, Unilever also created The Gamekillers,” a television series set to debut on MTV on Sept. 21, to sell Axe antiperspirant, according to an article in the Sept. 13, 2007, Wall Street Journal.

How to sell products to consumers?

“Psychologists, social scientists, and experts in cognitive neuroscience form another important team — Consumer Science Insight — whose role is to investigate how a consumer’s ‘need’ or ‘desire’ translates into a product.”

Let’s check out the headlines. This one’s from Cell’s press release:

Girls prefer pink, or at least a redder shade of blue

Psst! Wouldn’t a “redder shade of blue” be purple?

Other headlines

Study: Why Girls Like Pink (Time.com, Aug. 20, 2007)

Why women love a red, red rose (USATODAY, Aug. 20, 2007)

Girls Really Do Prefer Pink (HealthDay/Yahoo! News, Aug. 20, 2007)

The HealthDay article was picked up by U.S. News & World Report, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and several others. It was even picked up by healthfinder.gov, “Your Guide to Reliable Health Information, sponsored by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.”

Color biases may be nature, not nurture (Los Angeles Times, Aug. 21, 2007)

At last, science discovers why blue is for boys but girls really do prefer pink (The Times, Aug. 21, 2007)

Why girls ‘really do prefer pink’ (BBC, Aug. 21, 2007)

Girls Prefer Pink, Or At Least A Redder Shade of Blue (Science Daily, Aug. 22, 2007)

I saved the best for last. No, there’s nothing special about the headline. It’s about the same as all the others. The article is the same.

Girls really do prefer pink, study shows (Telegraph, Aug. 21, 2007)

Oh, but this … this takes the cake. The Telegraph’s science editor, Dr. Roger Highfield, made a video version of the article, complete with color-screen changes with a snap of his fingers and a tone of authority and finality. As in, this is the truth, this is scientific fact, these researchers said so, I’m a doctor and I say so, amen.

P.S. The good Dr. Highfield used to work for Unilever.

Posted by Becky @ 11:38 pm | 8 Comments  


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