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Leslie Bennetts stars in ‘Dude, Where’s My Car?’

April 18, 2008 | 2008 campaign,Barack Obama,Hillary Clinton,Journalism,Katie Couric,Leslie Bennetts,Media,Politics,Stop the presses!

Leslie Bennetts should activate the Photon Accelerator Annihilation Beam on the Continuum Transfunctioner, save the universe and deliver Breast Enhancement Necklaces to the world.

Because, Dude. Reading the opinion piece she wrote for the New York Post, “Hillary & Katie, Two Women Pioneers … Driven off a Cliff,” is like waking up with a stoner’s hangover and a house full of pudding.

What’s her point? When she writes about everyday, ordinary American women for whom things go wrong, they’re stupid — willfully obtuse parasites who demonstrate for their children that woman is the n***** of the world.

When she writes about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Katie Couric, for whom things — according to Bennetts — have gone wrong, they’re victims. Well-paid, well-heeled victims of the patriarchy that calls for Couric to display her “denuded gams” for her $15 million annual paycheck.

Bennetts says male pundits gleefully deconstruct the “twin debacles” of Clinton and Couric’s “front-page flame-outs,” and she knows exactly who’s at fault.

But there’s plenty of blame to go around, much of which belongs to the male advisors whose catastrophic advice helped steer both women to defeat.

Dude. Because prominent women are, like, totally incapable of making their own decisions.

Bennetts says Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid is a failure.

Dude.

[Looking around nervously … whispering … ]

::::::Don’t tell Clinton!::::::

She will kick your ass. Or, as the Post would have you believe, she will shoot off your face, à la Susan Sarandon‘s Louise Sawyer. Yeah, the Post bobble-headed (yeah, that’s a verb … shut up) Clinton and Katie Couric on a Thelma & Louise publicity photo.

But who knows? Maybe Clinton will step down tomorrow, and I’ll eat my words.

Psych! That’s never gonna happen.

Bennetts says Couric is “one of the toughest interviewers in television.”

At CBS, Couric was the $60 million talent, but the suits who run the network were the geniuses who decided that one of the toughest interviewers in television should be reduced to a nauseating female caricature whose main contribution to her new role was girlish fatuousness, despite the excruciatingly obvious fact that the primary job requirement was gravitas.

Dude. Did you see this interview with Clinton — the one where she asked, “Someone told me your nickname in school was Miss Frigidaire. Is that true?” Yeah. Whew! Tough as nails.

Bennetts says Couric was girly and leggy at the behest of the CBS guys writing her paycheck.

Dude. Because she was never, ever girly or leggy before joining CBS.

Bennetts talks about Manolo Blahnik shoes, an essential element of the Victim Uniform of American Female Failure.

Dude. Does a celebrity writer get a pair of Manolo Blahniks in the mail every time she mentions them?

When the ousted Dan Rather complained that his former broadcast had been “dumbed down and tarted up,” he wasn’t wrong, but nobody ever instructed him to insert cutesy comments about his kids between devastating news segments on the Iraq War, let alone to flash his shapely legs and a titillating glimpse of thigh for the cameras. America remains blessedly unfamiliar with the sight of Rather’s hairy pins — one shudders to think what they’d look like in Manolo Blahniks — but Couric’s denuded gams were accorded such prominence that the male honchos masterminding her show seemed to believe that sexy legs in stilettoes were all that viewers cared about.

Dude. Because Dan Rather‘s opinion still counts. And Rush Limbaugh‘s. And Nora Ephron‘s.

Bennetts says Clinton and Couric are “two of America’s most prominent women.”

Dude. I guess that’s all there is. The rest? Posers. Not prominent at all. You know … like these.

Dude. Victims. Or … maybe they have better male advisers, eh?

And if blaming the patriarchy doesn’t work, Bennetts pulls out the “who’s the worst victim” card.

Lest anyone forget the proper role of women, there were helpful reminders from morons like the heckler shouting “Iron my shirts!” during a Clinton campaign appearance. No white males have yet been recorded yelling “Shine my shoes!” at an Obama event, but of course racism is offensive, whereas we’re supposed to laugh off even the most virulent sexism.

Dude. Because that’s how to eradicate sexism — by saying it’s worse than the racism a black presidential candidate (and an entire population of Americans) deals with every day. Because, you know, sexism can’t stand as an issue on its own. It has to climb on the back of racism to be seen and heard.

With friends like these, famous women scarcely need enemies. But there are more than enough of both to get the job done. And so the glass ceiling cracks a couple more well-coiffed heads, as effortlessly as if they were eggs.

Dude. With “journalists” like Bennetts, putting “prominent” women like Clinton and Couric in the “victim” sandbox, who needs a reason to get out of bed up in the morning? Quick. Someone get me a cosmopolitan and some pills. It’s women’s own fault. Because, as Bennetts said in her book, American women today have the most choices of women at any time in the history of the world. According to this article? Here are those choices.

1) Be stupid.
2) Be a victim.

So, Dude. Click your ruby-red high heels together and make a choice. If you pick the wrong one? Blame your male adviser.

*Click click.*

Posted by Becky @ 9:34 pm | 6 Comments  

Revisiting Leslie Bennetts and The Feminine Mistake

March 16, 2008 | Books,Family,Work

It seems Nataly at Work It, Mom! is in a bit of a pickle. She signed up Leslie Bennetts to write a series of articles over the next 10 weeks called “10 Reasons Working Moms Should Feel Great About Themselves,” based on her book The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? (now out in paperback). The first article was called, “Reason number one: Working women are happier.” Nataly is surprised by the reaction.

I won’t comment on the article. I’ll just send you to my review of The Feminine Mistake. I think that covers it.

Oh, wait. One thing. Who planted daffodils today?

Show of hands?

Posted by Becky @ 10:33 pm | 5 Comments  

Books: The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts

July 31, 2007 | Books,Family,Motherhood,Work

book-femininemistake.jpg

Title: The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? (New York: Hyperion/Voice, 2007). Author: Leslie Bennetts has been a contributing editor at Vanity Fairsince 1988, writing on the subjects that have ranged from movie stars to U.S. antiterrorism policy. Before joining that magazine, she was the first woman ever to cover a presidential campaign for The New York Times. Bennetts lives in New York City with her husband and their two children.

Devra published this as a guest post, and I posted it on my old blog, which has since disappeared.

My first reaction while reading The Feminine Mistake was that Leslie Bennetts had a point. Near the end of the book, she said, “Protect yourself.” That’s good advice. Too bad her message was delivered in such a condescending, patronizing way.

Here’s the gist of the book: Bennetts sounds the alarm that too many American women are staying home to raise their children, and she argues they should not give up paid employment for the economic dependency of stay-at-home motherhood.

Combining work and family really is the best choice for most women, and it’s eminently doable.

While she claims she wants to protect women from making the terrible “feminine mistake,” it’s really just another version of Linda Hirshman‘s “get to work” philosophy. Instead of the enraged screaming and stomping we get from Hirshman, though, Bennetts delivers her message with a shrug and a nonchalant:

I’m just reporting the facts.

Bennetts’ examples of things gone wrong for women who stayed home were tragic and terrifying. As, I might add, were the things I read in Ann Crittenden‘s book, The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2001), which I read even before I had children. Bennetts told of women whose husbands left them destitute and with no marketable skills after decades of raising children and supporting their husbands’ careers. Yet Bennetts also gave examples of things gone wrong on the other side with women whose “careerist priorities … take a terrible toll on children.” Tsk, tsk.

She seemed to hold up her experience as the only balanced example of the right thing to do. I don’t think she intended for that message to come through, but it did. In her line of work, then, every woman who becomes a mother should go from writing for The New York Times, which she did for 10 years, to a “lucrative and glamorous” job of writing about celebrities, which she does for Vanity Fair. If she would look beyond herself, she would realize that someone who worked, say, on the copydesk at even The New York Times would not have the same opportunity to segue into a lucrative and glamorous job working from home. It’s not that simple.

She mentioned how important collective organizing could be, but that seemed to be a distraction. The main message was that, really, the only thing women could do was stay in the workplace, no matter what. That’s it. No matter if they’re fired when they become pregnant, they’re shoved out the door because of inflexibility or discrimination or that they’re one sick day or snow day away from losing their jobs.

Like Hirshman, who admits that the workplace can suck, she did not offer any ideas about ways to change it. Bennetts took a nine-month maternity leave, and her husband took seven weeks off when their first child was born, which she admitted was unusual. She also was fortunate enough to find a good nanny. Yet she did not realize that, in saying how incredibly lucky she was, she made clear that finding good childcare is a crap-shoot. But that was her experience, and she expects it to apply to everyone else.

Her entire message blames women — again — for their stupid choices. Instead of channeling anger at discrimination and inequality in the workplace and promoting changes with policymakers, she puts women in the cross-hairs. Not only do women make the wrong choices regarding their children, now they make the wrong choices regarding work, and they’re letting down all other women, or at least the women who live the same lives as Bennetts. (And, gee, how many could that be?)

Where Bennetts, Hirshman and so many others fail is in their misguided notion that all women’s lives are formed from the same cookie cutter. If Bennetts were to have said, here’s what I did and how it worked for me, and I hope you find something that works for you, that might be a whole other story. But her message is: You’re wrong. Dead wrong. Here are the terrible things that will happen to you because of the stupid choices you made.

While Bennetts cast a light on the hypocrisy of the likes of Caitlin Flanagan, Phyllis Schlafly and Laura Schlessinger (about whom Bennetts wrote an article in the September 1998 issue of Vanity Fair), she left Hirshman hiding in the shadows. Just like Flanagan was not the kind of stay-at-home mother she told others to be in To Hell with all that: Loving and Loathing our Inner Housewife (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2006), Hirshman’s message is, “Do as I say, not as I do.” She has followed none of her own rules outlined in Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World (New York: Viking, 2006) and the originating 2005 article, “Homeward Bound.” (She has since changed her “marry up” rule to “don’t marry a jerk.”) She knows exactly where the butter is, she married two men her age, and she “married up” both times. Find the money? She found the money by marrying it. That is not to say Bennetts is not what she says she is. She is just on the other side of the coin. It’s her way or the highway.

As an aside, Hirshman was annoyed that Bennetts got attention for hijacking her own message. Bennetts was angry at “mommybloggers” (or “the momosphere,” as her husband called it) ranting about her book without having read it. Yet she did not complain about Hirshman’s rant, even though Hirshman had not read her book either. See how circular all this is? Where does it go? Nowhere. What gets done? Nothing. These authors may not generate a lot of book sales (Hirshman’s book sold only 4,000 copies), but they do generate a lot of hype and chatter. And that’s about it.

On a Saturday-morning news show, Bennetts said about her book,

I wasn’t making a value judgment. I’m just a reporter. I’m just putting the facts out there. But if you know that three-quarters of the people who make a certain choice are going to end up having really negative consequences to it, those are just facts. So I’m not criticizing anybody personally. If people are defensive, it’s because they feel some insecurity about their own choices. I’m just a reporter.

It all started with an article she wrote — with just a wee bit of snark — in 2005 called “She’s Gotta Have It All.” It was touted to “make the case against stay-at-home motherhood.” A reader left a comment, saying, “you’re a bunch of cowbirds,” which Bennetts explained in detail in her book after discovering that “cowbirds are the shiftless hos of the bird world.” Defensive? Maybe. In any case, she ramped up the snark in her book.

While career women simply “said” things in the book, stay-at-home mothers she interviewed “snorted,” “scoffed” or “parroted” what others said. They dismissed their futures with an “airy I’ll think about it tomorrow” a la Scarlett O’Hara. “Infantilized by dependency,” SAHMs made “childish decisions” and were “willfully obtuse Pollyannas who insist that mommy-track employees are as valuable as full-time careerists.” They had a “lack of commitment” and “erratic nature” when it came to employment. She quoted Simone de Beauvoir, who called women parasites in 1949. While Bennetts admitted parasites was a harsh word, she said, well, if the shoe fits, wear it. (Shrug.)

About wealthy SAHMs, who often employed nannies and housekeepers, she said,

These women may not be working for pay, but their tennis lessons, hair and manicure appointments, shopping dates, volunteer commitments, and social engagements frequently keep them out of the house for longer hours than many of the working mothers I know.

Others were “super-fit stay-at-home moms who spend a good part of their day in the gym.” She described one SAHM “who most closely approximates the Stepford ideal” as “preternaturally perky.”

She said she was baffled by “women’s complicity” in their own oppression and said,

what all too many mothers are demonstrating for their children is that woman is the nigger of the world, as John Lennon and Yoko Ono put it so memorably in a song lyric in 1972.

Just the facts. (Shrug.)

Bennetts criticizes “the media” for not telling the whole story to women, which is an amusing indictment, considering that she employs the same half-a-story methods. In a television interview with Deborah Roberts on ABC (which, Roberts pointed out, is owned by Disney, as is Hyperion, Bennetts’ publisher), Roberts said some of Bennetts’ statistics “frankly shocked me,” and she cited, “40 percent of women say they would love to go back to the gender roles of the ’50s.”

Hold up. It seems Roberts (or ABC or Hyperion or Disney) was no more interested in checking facts than Bennetts was. Roberts did not qualify the “40 percent.” The way she said it sounded like she was talking about 40 percent of all American women. Is that correct? Let’s see.

Bennetts used flimsy, outdated sources to bolster her claim that far too many American women are leaving the workplace in droves (or forgoing it altogether) for a return to an idealized version of the 1950s motherhood. Many “facts” come from secondhand sources through interviews, articles or informal surveys that, statistically speaking, are irrelevant.

For example, she said in the text (and this is one of Roberts’ “shocking” statistics),

A recent poll cited by Psychology Today found that 40 percent of today’s women would actually prefer a return to the gender roles of the 1950s.

Who are today’s women? Every woman in the United States? A million women? A thousand? Umm, no. Today’s women (at least “the 40 percent” of them) are about 200 (give or take) women who were surveyed 10 years ago.

The “recent” poll cited in the January/February 2006 issue of Psychology Today was conducted in 1997 by The Washington Post-Kaiser Foundation-Harvard University by randomly calling 1,008 adults and asking, among other questions,

Considering everything, do you think it would be better or worse for the country if men and women went back to the traditional roles they had in the 1950s, or don’t you think it would make a difference?

Forty-two percent of the women polled said it would be better. Let’s say half of the adults were women, which would be 504 of various ages and backgrounds (the poll didn’t break down demographics or gender, whether they were single or married, parents, grandparents or childless, employed, unemployed or retired … you get the picture). Take that times 42 percent, and we have about 200 women saying it would be better for the country to return to the traditional roles of the 1950s.

So, no, it is not correct for Roberts to assume that Bennetts’ “shocking” statistics speak for all American women. The statistics apply to only about 200 women.

Does that say these 200 women wanted to be June Cleaver? No. Does it say they were June Cleaver in the 1950s and in 1997 were barely scraping by on a couple hundred bucks a month in a nursing home? No. Does it say they were Generation Xers who grew up as latchkey kids and didn’t want their children to grow up that way? Nope, it doesn’t say that either. All it says is that on that particular day about 200 women thought, for whatever reasons, the country would be better with traditional roles from the 1950s.

Even more interesting (and this was not included in Bennetts’ book) is the next question, which asked if it would be better or worse if respondents themselves went back to traditional roles of the 1950s. Only 27 percent of the married women said it would be better.

A similar survey by the same group, conducted days earlier, randomly called 804 adults and found that 80 percent of both men and women thought changes with families, the workplace and society made things harder for parents to raise children, and up to 71 percent of women felt discriminated against in the workplace. This still isn’t a representative sample, even if it does balance the picture a bit.

Citing an article that cites a study (3,020 parents surveyed in 2003 by Reach Advisors), she said that “twice as many Gen-X mothers as boomer mothers spent more than 12 hours a day ‘attending to child-rearing and household responsibilities.'” Twice as many of what number? Was it 200 Gen-Xers and 100 boomers? Or 2,000 and 1,000? What exactly does that information mean?

And in 2001, when Harvard Business School Professor Myra Hartsurveyed female Harvard MBAs from the classes of 1981, 1986, and 1991, she found that only 38 percent of those with children were working full time.

Thirty-eight percent of what number? The 50 alumnae who attended Hart’s first “Charting Your Course” program in May 2000? If so, that would be 19, if all 50 were mothers. Or could it be the 100 or so who attended reunions and completed surveys? Even if all 100 were mothers, that’s 38 alumnae. The number of women surveyed should be specified.

Bennetts cited another article that cited another study (from 1994):

57 percent of mothers spent at least a year at home caring for their infant children in the first decade after graduation.

Even though it mentions this is from a survey of the Stanford University class of 1981, it sounded (as in the Psychology Today poll) as if she were talking about more than half of all American women. Nope. Just how many women are we talking about? Ten? Twenty? A hundred? A thousand? In Cream of the Crop: The Impact of Elite Education in the Decade After College, Herant Katchadourian and John Boli (BasicBooks/HarperCollins, 1994) wrote about a study that consisted of an extensive questionnaire survey of 224 graduates from the Stanford class of 1981 and intensive interviews with 100 members of that group. About one-third, or 81, were parents. The study did not break down participants by gender, so if I guess that half are women, that means 40 women were mothers. Take that times the 57 percent quote from the article cited in the book, and that’s 23 mothers “who spent at least a year at home caring for their infant children.”

The entire quote from the book is:

57 percent of mothers in our sample spent at least a year at home caring for their infant children, but only 4 percent of fathers did likewise. Most educational elite women do not want to interrupt their careers for long. Mothers did not usually stay home with their children for more than a year, and most of the 43 percent who stayed home less than a year were off the job for six months or less. Only one out of four [read: 6 mothers] have stayed home three or more years, including one who has been a homemaker since the first year after graduation. Thus far, at any rate, these long-term, full-time homemakers are exceptional, though perhaps more women will adopt that role in the next few years as they have more children or as more of them become first-time mothers.

Even Bennetts’ sources contradict each other (though she explained that in her source notes, not the text of the book). Another Stanford survey (from 1990) found that 12 percent of female graduates from the class of 1981 were full-time homemakers. Something didn’t match up. Either the 57 percent didn’t consider themselves homemakers, or the studies asked different questions, or maybe something dramatic happened in the four years that separated the two studies.

Or … here’s a thought. Maybe the 57 percent were taking “maternity leaves” they could have gotten if they lived in just about any other western industrialized country but, whoops, couldn’t get in the United States. Even the U.S. Census Bureau can add it up:

The 2000 participation [in the labor force] level of 55 percent was the first statistically significant decline since 1976 and its level was not different from 2002 (also 55 percent). Changes in the labor force participation of women with infants could signal changes in the need for child care, in child rearing practices, in future childbearing and birth spacing patterns, and in the demand for employer-sponsored maternity leave benefits.

Quoting Hirshman, who performed a “study” of women with wedding announcements in The New York Times in 1996,

Although all were college graduates with budding careers, 85 percent had stopped working full time within eight years.

Eighty-five percent. That’s a big number. How many women is that exactly? What Bennetts did not say was that Hirshman contacted 41 women. That means that 33 women were enough to get Hirshman to pound out a manifesto and for Bennetts to drive another nail into the “feminine mistake” coffin. Near the end of the book, though, she took Hirshman to task for giving impractical, flippant advice, some of which she called “facetious at best … destructive at worst.” She gets points for that, but she needs to put her own advice under the same microscope.

Bennetts said in the book’s prologue,

In the history of the world, no females have ever enjoyed a greater range of opportunities than do American women today. Most of the barriers to realizing those possibilities are self-imposed — the products of an anachronistic myth that encourages female dependency while obscuring its price.

Wow. The entire history of the world. What facts did she use to back up this claim?

Maybe she considered the fact that:

  • American women get the same amount of paid maternity leave as women do in Lesotho, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland: zero.
  • Same for American men and paternity leave: zero.
  • It’s legal in most states for employers to discriminate against American mothers.
  • While illegal, American women deal with pregnancy discrimination every day.
  • At least 76 countries protect the right of mothers to breastfeed at work, but the United States does not.
  • The United States is tied with Ecuador and Suriname for 39th place regarding enrollment in early childhood careand education for 3- to 5-year-olds, that almost all European countries perform better and a range of developing and transitioning countries had higher enrollment rates than the United States, despite being poorer.
  • Employer-sponsored childcare in the United States is available to only one in eight employees.
  • The only way for American women to get guaranteed affordable, high-quality child care is to join the military.
  • At least 96 countries require employers to provide paid annual leave, but the United States does not.
  • At least 84 countries have a maximum length workweek, but the United States — 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 the United States does not.
  • At least 37 countries guarantee leave from work for sick children, but the United States does not.
  • At least 139 countries provide paid sick leave to employees, but the United States does not.
  • Women still earn less than men do, and mothers earn less than anyone.

Maybe she considered these facts. Or … maybe not. What with all those self-imposed barriers American women place on their own roads to success — like identifying with Cinderella, damsels in distress and the hooker in Pretty Woman (yeah, she really said that) — those other facts just get in the way. Instead of asking, “What’s wrong with the workplace?” she asks, “What’s wrong with women?”

Et tu, Leslie?

[Note: I found a 2007 updated version of The Work, Family, and Equity Index that I used for much of the abive information. Only three newspapers ran articles in 2004 about the first report. Two ran articles in 2006. Four ran articles in 2007 about the latest report, while one international newspaper and two Canadian newspapers did. None was The New York Times or The Washington Post, which would rather run articles by and about Hirshman, Bennetts and/or the “mommy wars.” Compare 12 articles over three years about a report that discusses “what’s wrong with the workplace” with about 80 newspapers that have run articles about The Feminine Mistake in just a couple of months. By the way, the 2004 report highlighted the 4th Annual Invitational Journalism-Work/Family Conference in Boston in 2005. If it was important enough to hold an entire conference about, why the virtual silence in the media? Speaking of silence, Miriam Peskowitz and The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes a Good Mother? (Seal Press, 2005) was mentioned in about 20 articles and one — ONE — review. Could that be because it has the word truth in the title?]

I don’t think Leslie Bennetts is a cowbird. Nor am I defensive about what she says. She just needs to be accountable for what she reports. “I’m just a reporter” is a cop-out. If you say you’re a reporter, act like one. If you want to report “just the facts,” then get the facts straight. And, for crying out loud, pay a good editor to clean up the condescension and snark.

Posted by Becky @ 4:01 pm | 11 Comments  

Bennetts: Men shirk chores because women let them

April 19, 2008 | Daddy bloggers,Family,Leslie Bennetts,Work

Hey, guys, fathers, dads, daddybloggers… Leslie Bennetts writes about you this time in “Chores for two: Why men don’t pitch in.”

Ask your typical American dad what size shoes his children wear, and you will likely draw a blank stare. He has no idea. Guess who makes sure the kids’ toes aren’t poking through their sneakers?

OK, Typical American Dads: Do you know what size shoes your children wear?

(If you do, you’re one up on me. I have to dig around in the closet and look at the shoes to find out what size my children wear.)

Here’s another question: Are you a lot like children?

And while I recognize that gender stereotypes are risky, in my experience husbands are a lot like children. They will get away with whatever they can get away with. When you put your foot down and make it clear that you won’t take no for an answer, somehow the kids’ rooms get cleaned, the groceries bought, the laundry folded. It really does work, I promise.

(My husband already has a mother.)

In case you haven’t seen me cite this quote enough already, here it is. Again.

So why aren’t women demanding something closer to parity? While many are resigned to seething in silence, the stakes are far higher than they seem to realize. When wives permit their husbands to shirk a fair share of the homemaking and parenting, not only do they themselves suffer, but chances are good that they’re also sentencing their children to a similar fate. When you have kids, everything you do teaches them how to live their own lives when they grow up. Unfortunately, all too many women are still teaching their children that “woman is the nigger of the world,” as John Lennon and Yoko Ono put it so memorably in a song lyric years ago. And what too many fathers teach their sons and daughters is that men can get away with dumping the scut work on their wives, and that women will grit their teeth and put up with it.

Posted by Becky @ 2:34 pm | 13 Comments  

About ~ new

December 28, 2010 | About me,Blogging

Check out my about.me profile!

I’m a journalist committed to accuracy (that’s why I edit and fact-check) and no-BS intelligence (that’s why I write about about media literacy and journalism ethics).

I love books. And people who write them. And people who read them. And my library. I read a lot and I write about books. A lot.

I also write about politics, war, ethics, motherhood, work and family, among other things.

 

Posted by Becky @ 6:26 pm | Comments  

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: No Excuses

October 24, 2010 | Benefits,Books,Economics,Education,Family,Gloria Feldt,Leslie Bennetts,Linda Hirshman,Motherhood,Politics,Work

I just read No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think about Power by Gloria Feldt. I bought the Kindle version.

If I’d only read the headlines and tweets, I might have dismissed it as a (sadly familiar) scolding of “not doing feminism right.” When I saw, “Women’s roadblock to power: themselves,” I thought, wait a second. I thought I had a good sense of who Gloria Feldt was (we met in Chicago in 2009), and this doesn’t sound like that. I’d better read this book.

It’s a great book, and I’ll tell you why.

I just need to get a few things out of the way first.

Feldt quotes so many inspiring people and tells the stories of amazing women. She also quotes Linda Hirshman and Leslie Bennetts, both of whom I disagree with on so many levels. Feldt may call Hirshman her “tough-love feminist friend,” but to many, Hirshman is a bully. Bennetts says she’s simply the messenger, but it’s actually her “message” that’s flawed. Her heart may be in the right place, but her supporting evidence isn’t.

Feldt takes a couple of surface swipes at women who “opt out” of the workplace. They should just “cut it out” because, you know, she and other feminists of her generation didn’t work their butts off so these youngsters could just sit on theirs. (My words, not hers.)

Looking at the issues we face as women through a completely individualistic lens presents us with a problem, or maybe it’s just an excuse. I liken it to the so-called choice feminists who say that what the women’s movement fought for was solely to give them options, and every option, including opting out of the workforce or total indifference to politics, is equally valid. It’s individualism dressed up as feminism. (Location 2082, Kindle edition)

It’s just not that simple. Women get fired because of pregnancy and lactation, others are pushed out for other reasons. Many women don’t want to “opt out” and wouldn’t if they had more rights. For example, lactation wouldn’t even be a work issue if women had guaranteed, paid family leave. But they don’t. So they get lactation rooms. If they’re lucky. Most get nothing.

I do, however, agree with her advice to work together on these issues, especially considering the standing advice is to “negotiate individually with your boss.” That’s fine, until your boss takes another job and you’re left with a boss who refuses to (and isn’t required to) honor your previous agreement. Or maybe your company will have layoffs, and you (with the flextime or on maternity leave) will probably be the first to go.

When you’re up against a work-life balance problem that requires changing a long-used process — perhaps you’re trying to change a policy like creating flextime, ensuring sick leave, or getting more women onto the executive team — you can, to a limited extent, improve your situation independently of others by negotiating your own terms of employment. But that won’t alter the underlying structure that perpetuates the problem. If you want to change the system, you need to function like a movement. (Location 3719, Kindle edition)

When all choices are framed as radically individual ones, not only are women less likely to perceive their own power to determine the course of their lives and the quality of others’ lives, but they are also less likely to seek the recourse and strength that can be found in a collective movement united in Sister Courage. (Location 5093, Kindle edition)

At one point, Feldt talked about a meeting where she asked a room full of university professionals why men earn more money.

“Because they ask for it!” they said.

No, they don’t. Money falls in their laps like manna from heaven. OK. Sweeping generalization alert! (As in, “they [all] ask for it!”) But I’d bet a lot of them don’t. They’re rewarded with more money because the guys they work for figure they deserve it. (Another generalization alert!)

So, let me get specific.

My husband and I graduated from college at the same time from the same university. We had different majors and worked in different industries, but we earned the same salary in our first jobs out. In less than five years, his salary was more than double mine. He never once asked for more money or a raise. I, on the other hand, spoke up often. About everything. I was told no or shown the hoops that I should jump through before I would get what I requested, whether it was more money, the proper equipment to do my job or getting a sexist boss to treat me fairly. (I ended up leaving that job, and he stayed on for several more years, probably getting raises he never had to request.)

I once applied and interviewed for a job when I was working another. They were interested until it came to money. They choked on my salary requirement and asked what I earned in the job I had. I told them. I was better off staying where I was, they told me (and I was already earning less than half my husband’s salary).

So, while my husband was offered more money at every new job he considered, I was always offered less. Just a few years ago, I finagled an interview for a management position, which was really five jobs squeezed into one. When I asked about salary, it was all I could do to not fall out of my chair. That wasn’t a living wage for one person, let alone a family of five. If I hadn’t bitten my tongue, the next words out of my mouth would have been, “OK. Close your eyes. Pretend I’m a man. Now what’s the salary?”

By far the most confounding problem facing women today is not that doors aren’t open, but that women aren’t walking through the open doors in numbers and with intention sufficient to transform society’s major institutions once and for all. (Location 789, Kindle edition)

When I started reading in No Excuses about all these wide-open doors that women should be walking through, I couldn’t help but thinking, with a side order of sarcasm …

Oh, oh, oh! Did you get us paid maternity leave?

*pause*

No.

OK. Umm. Oh, oh, oh! Did you get us equal pay?

*pause*

No.

OK. Umm. What about universal child care?

No.

Well? Did you at least get us one guaranteed paid sick day?

No.

But, seriously. I’d be missing the point if that were my overall response to this book.

This is a great book because it is overwhelmingly positive, encouraging and inclusive. It builds momentum and fosters hope. It says, “Now is the time to claim power. Let’s do it together.”

I may not agree with every one of her assessments on why women are “stuck” where they are, but I do agree that women are stuck, and it’s best to work together to change that. As she said, this is an exciting time, “flush with the promise of transformation” and that women should embrace their “power to push the fulcrum, finally, to abundant justice and full equality so that women can at last lead unlimited lives.” (Location 5326, Kindle edition)

How could you not get swept up in that?

I thought it was interesting that she told the story of Joan Gerberding of Mediaguide and Mentoring and Inspiring Women in Radio because I’d recently read a book by Eric Shoars, Women Under Glass: The Secret Nature of Glass Ceilings and the Steps to Overcome Them, in which he talks about the dearth of women at the executive level in the radio industry. His advice for gaining parity for women in the radio industry was a mentorship program. While that’s a great idea, it’s far too simplistic. Feldt confirmed my thoughts by quoting Cherie Blair, “We need more than mentors. We need real structural change.” (Location 1820, Kindle edition)

I’m good at connecting people who belong together. I’ve always wanted to gather a powerhouse panel of amazing women, but I haven’t been able to do that yet.

You know who can? Gloria Feldt. She knows everyone from Gloria Steinem to Shelby Knox. She builds bridges instead of burning them. She builds people up instead of tearing them down. She looks for opportunity and equality at every turn.

She wants to inspire: “There are many reasons why women have been held back or have stepped back from our power. But there are no excuses anymore. My intent is not to assign blame, but to inspire women to embrace our historic moment; not to dish up ancient history, but to envision a bright future, and to provide the tools to make it happen now while the opportunity is hot.” (Location 143, Kindle edition)

I might just think this book was written by someone who plans to run for office. Hey, it’s happened before. I know a certain president who wrote a couple of books before he got elected.

Is that a wide-open Oval Office door I see?

I stood up and asked, ‘What in the world is wrong with leading?’ (Location 5308, Kindle edition)

What indeed. What do you say, Gloria? You walking through?

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Leslie Bennetts stars in ‘Dude, Where’s My Car?’
Bennetts: Men shirk chores because women let them
Revisiting Linda Hirshman
Linda Hirshman rants about Yo Mamma
A little less conversation, a little more action, please
Books: Rumors of our Progress have been Greatly Exaggerated by Carolyn B. Maloney
Working Mother works for … you?

Posted by Becky @ 5:26 pm | 19 Comments  

A little less conversation, a little more action, please

October 30, 2009 | Benefits,Books,Corporate Voices for Working Families,Economics,Ethics,Leslie Bennetts,Maria Shriver,Media,MSM,Politics,PR,Working Mother

Maria Shriver declares the United States “a woman’s nation” in The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything. Why? Because women now make up half the workforce. That, she says, “changes everything.”

Does Maria Shriver live in the same nation as the rest of us?

The same nation …

… that dropped from 27th to 31st place on the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report.

… where boys and men who “weren’t raised to respect girls” gang rape a 15-year-old girl on school grounds after a homecoming dance.

… where The New York Times glorifies on its front page the life of a robed and slippered senior citizen who amassed great wealth and notoriety literally on the backs of thousands of women.

… where people actually debate whether an adult who rapes a child should be brought to justice.

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.

As pointed out before:

  • 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.

Sponsors

Advisory committee

So what’s the point?

Last year, I reviewed 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. While I took issue with a few things and especially how she publicized the book, I said it was a comprehensive look at women’s issues. For those who regularly keep up on these issues, however, not much of the information was new.

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.


 
Others weigh in

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Posted by Becky @ 6:00 am | 3 Comments  

Books: What I’ve read

August 22, 2007 | Books

So I don’t overload my sidebar, I’ll link to this post on my sidebar and keep it updated. I’ve written more about the ones with a * beside them. Click through to read.

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Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

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The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? by Leslie Bennetts

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Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail [‘]72 by Hunter S. Thompson

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Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky

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Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes by Greil Marcus

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It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good by Rick Santorum

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It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us by Hillary Rodham Clinton

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Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton

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The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon

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The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War by Andrew J. Bacevich

Posted by Becky @ 9:00 pm | 1 Comment  

About

June 24, 2007 |

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I’m a journalist committed to accuracy (that’s why I edit and fact-check) and no-BS intelligence (that’s why I write about media literacy and journalism ethics).

I juggle freelance jobs and run a small business.

I love books. And people who write them. And people who read them. I read a lot and I write about books.

I also write about politics, war, ethics, motherhood, work and family, among other things.

Posted by Becky @ 4:06 pm | Comments  


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