The National Organization for Women sent a press release today, announcing that the NOW Political Action Committee and the Feminist Majority PAC endorsed Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., to replace Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., in the Senate if Clinton’s nomination for U.S. Secretary of State goes through.
The press release quoted Kim Gandy, NOW president, and Eleanor Smeal, Feminist Majority president.
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.
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.
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?
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 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 highlyskeptical of the wholething.
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.
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.
She had me at, “I call bullshit” (on p. 14 of the Introduction.)
“She” is Jennifer Pozner, and the book is Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV. This is actually the last book I read last year. Yes. I’m that far behind. So let me get to it.
Pozner set out to explain our “social beliefs” and how networks, advertisers and media owners exploit them for profit through reality television — and what we can do about it. I must say, she did a mighty fine job.
She drags reality television, kicking and screaming, out into the light of day and shows it for what it is. I can’t help but think of this page of photographs of women arrested for prostitution.*
On the surface, reality television looks all sparkly and pretty and maybe even a little princess-y. (That’s my nod to Peggy Orenstein. More on her book in a later post.) Or, at the very least, clean and presentable. It’s all the soft lighting, candles and makeup. (Well, until we get to Jersey Shore.) In the harsh sunlight, though, reality television looks more like the last picture on each row of photos (their eighth arrest) than the first.
Pozner doesn’t admonish anyone for watching reality television. Instead, she wants to educate everyone about media literacy, critical thinking and healthy skepticism.
She covers everything from “twisted fairy tales,” in which humiliation is the flip side of “happily ever after,” to supermodel shows, eating disorders and battered self-esteem.
She mentions a red-carpet moment at the 2009 Emmys, where Ryan Seacrest told Jenna Fischer, “Congratulations on being a size 0,” as if that were a laudatory achievement — disappearing into nothing. (Now I know why it bothered me so much how Seacrest fawned all over Jennifer Hudson this year, after she showed up everywhere thinner than ever, thanks to a contract she signed with a weight-loss company.)
Pozner only mentioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer a couple of times in the book, but I knew she was a fan, believing Buffy to be a strong, positive female character. A feminist, even. Wow, I thought. I’ve never had the slightest interest in watching that show. I was far enough removed from high school that a cast of high-school students had little appeal. (OK. So that doesn’t explain why I enjoy Glee now, although there is a tiny Joss Whedon thread there, I suppose.) Besides, I cut my eye teeth on Stephen King. I figured I’d had enough ghoulishness to last a lifetime.
But the topic kept popping up, and I started to wonder, should I at least watch one episode.
Nah. Why should I? I don’t need to waste my time on that. (*cough*)
Apparently, my possessed dvr had other ideas. (Yeah, I think I’ll start calling it Christine now.) I sat down one night in my comfy chair, checked my list of recorded shows and chose RuPaul’s Drag Race. (OK. Now you know. RuPaul is my guilty-pleasure TV.) There were several episodes, so I thought I’d settle in and catch up. Guess what came on? Buffy. I swear. On every single RuPaul show. Somebody thought I should watch some Buffy, so I did. And I could see what Pozner was saying.
She also covers everything else — from embedded advertising to unapologetic misogyny, racism and violence. She watched hundreds of hours of reality television … so I don’t have to. She went behind the scenes to explain how things work and whose interests drive reality television. Guess what. It’s not your interests. She ends with a section of media literacy and a ton of great resources.
It really is a must-read.
“If we care about independent thought, artistic integrity, and cultural diversity, we must demand that programming improve, not accept its erosion with a yawn.” (p. 295)
*This is a copy of page 246 in Carolyn B. Maloney‘s book Rumors of our Progress have been Greatly Exaggerated: Why Women’s Lives Aren’t Getting Any Easier and How We Can Make Real Progress for Ourselves and Our Daughters, which I wrote about a while ago. It was originally published by Prism magazine in 2007, and Maloney said it made the strongest case against sex trafficking she had ever seen.
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?
OK. Umm. Oh, oh, oh! Did you get us equal pay?
OK. Umm. What about universal child care?
Well? Did you at least get us one guaranteed paid sick day?
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)
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?
It’s not clear to me what The Shriver Report’s point is, except it doesn’t seem to be a call to action. It does, however, declare the battle of the sexes over. It’s all rather retro to dredge up a “battle” that saw Billie Jean King defeat Bobby Riggs in a tennis match, which was dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes.” That “battle” was essentially a publicity stunt.
Is that what this is? A publicity stunt? If so, to what end?
Established in 1961, the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women was a compromise by John F. Kennedy, who didn’t want to alienate his supporters who were against the Equal Rights Amendment. Maybe The Shriver Report is a compromise to its sponsors, advisers and the rest of corporate America, which is adamantly opposed to legislation that requires equality and/or benefits of any kind.
At least 139 countries provide paid sick leave to employees, but this “woman’s nation” does not.
Almost 100 countries require employers to provide paid annual leave, but this “woman’s nation” does not.
Women in this “woman’s nation” get the same amount of paid maternity leave as women do in Lesotho, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland: zero.
Men in this “woman’s nation” get the same amount of paid paternity leave: zero.
It is legal in most states of this “woman’s nation” for employers to discriminate against mothers.
While illegal, women in this “woman’s nation” deal with pregnancy discrimination every day.
At least 84 countries have a maximum length workweek, but this “woman’s nation” — whose workweek length was second only to Japan’s hours among industrialized countries — does not.
At least 34 countries guarantee discretionary leave from work — Greece and Switzerland offer paid leave specifically for children’s educational needs — but this “woman’s nation” does not.
Women in this “woman’s nation” still earn less than men do, and mothers earn less than anyone.
Knowing all that, it’s confusing to see Shriver on national television talking about flex time as if that were the most pressing issue American women faced every day. Imagine my surprise when I read the report and saw things like equal pay mentioned.
Even so, what does it mean that American women comprise half the workforce? Nothing. Especially if women have no power (or very limited power) to implement change or write policy. It means nothing until women make up half of Congress, half the boards of directors and half the executive teams that run American businesses.
How do some of The Shriver Report sponsors and advisory-committee members measure up in terms of women in positions of power? Let’s see.
That’s how I feel about The Shriver Report, only worse. Yes, the Rockefeller Foundation/TIME survey of 3,400 people provided new data, as highlighted in a special report in TIME, The State of the American Woman, What Women Want Now by Nancy Gibbs, Oct. 26, 2009. But the rest of the essays feel so out of date and certainly undeserving of a breathless media blitz. Maybe it’s “news” to someone who hasn’t read a thing on the subject in 30 years. But for others it might feel as stale and out of place as the term “battle of the sexes.”
Oprah Winfrey says in the epilogue that the report’s intent is to start a conversation. Hello? When she and Shriver weren’t listening, the conversation had already begun.
Simon & Schuster published The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything edited by Heather Boushey and Ann O’Leary, with Karen Skelton, Ed Paisley, Leslie Miller, and Laura Nicholson Oct. 20, 2009. The eBook includes an introductory chapter by Maria Shriver. It lists for $20, but I got my copy for $16 with a $4 discount code.