Tagged: gender


On Female Privilege

You mention male privilege in a blog post, and it’s inevitable: Someone else (usually male) will start asking about female privilege. If men have privilege, don’t women have privilege too? And does that undercut the idea of male privilege as a type of gender subordination which is built into society? (Because, the implication goes, we all have privilege — and so feminists should stop complaining about male privilege.)

And, so, predictably, some critics of feminism, “men’s rights” blogs, and the like have assembled lengthy lists of female privilege. (Women get their dates paid for — it isn’t fair!) And it’s true that there are areas where, taken on a stand-alone basis, male and female treatment appears to favor women. As we’ll see, I don’t think these areas really provide an analogue to male privilege.

We’ll start with the obvious, descriptive matter: Some areas exist in which women have some advantages. For one obvious example, some bars offer free drinks to women on some evenings. (Ladies night.) Looked at in isolation, these could be viewed as areas of female privilege. However, in context, it seems evident that this apparent female privilege fills one of two roles. Read More


Harassment, male privilege, and jokes that women just don’t get

A familiar theme comes up frequently in internet discussions: Women who complain about online harassment are just missing the joke.

As an initial descriptive matter, it’s pretty clear that women and men are often treated differently in online discussion. (Quick, name a case in which someone was harassed online. Was the person you thought about a woman? I thought so.)

A few months ago, John Scalzi noted that:

In my experience, talking to women bloggers and writers, they are quite likely to get abusive comments and e-mail, and receive more of it not only than what I get personally (which isn’t difficult) but more than what men bloggers and writers typically get. I think bloggers who focus on certain subjects (politics, sexuality, etc) will get more abusive responses than ones who write primarily on other topics, but even in those fields, women seem more of a target for abusive people than the men are. And even women writing on non-controversial topics get smacked with this crap. I know knitting bloggers who have some amazingly hateful comments directed at them. They’re blogging about knitting, for Christ’s sake. . .

I can contrast this with how people approach me on similar topics. When I post photos of processed cheese, I don’t get abused about how bad it is and how bad I am for posting about it. People don’t abuse me over my weight, even when I talk explicitly about it. I go away from my family for weeks at a time and never get crap about what a bad father that makes me, even though I have always been the stay-at-home parent. Now, it’s true in every case that if I did get crap, I would deal with it harshly, either by going after the commenter or by simply malleting their jackassery into oblivion. But the point is I don’t have to. I’m a man and I largely get a pass on weight, on parenting and (apparently) on exhibition and ingestion of processed cheese products. Or at the very least if someone thinks I’m a bad person for any of these, they keep it to themselves. They do the same for any number of other topics they might feel free to lecture or abuse women over.

It’s this sort of thing that reminds me that the Internet is not the same experience for me as it is for some of my women friends. (Emphasis added.)

That bears repeating: The Internet is not the same experience for men as it is for women. (No wonder women are numerically underrepresented in prominent internet discussion spaces.)

Why is the internet a different place for men than for women? There are doubtless a number of contributing causes, but one of the major factors is that the internet is largely a male-constructed discursive space, and internet discussion norms often build on assumptions of male privilege. Read More


No Right to Retire?

Courts regularly grapple with the competing principles of autonomy and obligation in the context of family law.   How to reconcile these principles – when gender, money, relative status, jealousy, spite, avarice are involved – is a fascinating challenge for judges.  These issues are also fun to teach since they are often uncomfortably close to most people’s own experiences. 

On Monday, the Massachusetts Supreme Court considered a variant of the autonomy/obligation condundrum in Pierce v. Pierce  – in which the Court was basically asked to decide whether a higher earning spouse has a “right to retire” and be exempted from otherwise on-going alimony obligations.

Rudolph Pierce was a well-compensated attorney.  In the divorce agreement from Carniece, his wife of 32 years, he agreed to pay $110,000 year in alimony until either party died or she remarried.  When he decided to retire from his partnership at age 65, he argued that he should be relieved of any obligation to pay alimony and asked the court to adopt a rebuttable presumption that all alimony should be terminated when (1) the supporting spouse retires from employment at a customary retirement age and has no actual earned income, (2) the parties’ marital assets, including their retirement assets, had been equally divided at the divorce, and (3) the parties have the same amount of liquid assets at the time of the provider spouse’s retirement.  

 The trial court agreed to a significant modifcation of Rudolph’s obligation – to $42 k – but held that in light of Carniece’s recent loss of her job, the fact that she was not yet t entitled to Social Security, and that Rudolph continued to have significant earning capacity (in addition to his assets and his current wife’s salary), he wasn’t off the hook altogether.   The Supreme Court rejected Rudolph’s rebutabble presumption and affirmed the multi-factoral test generally applicable to modification requests.

My first thought (which the Court echoed) is why (at age 57), Rudolph agreed to such a high alimony award without a change upon his retirement.   A cynic would suggest that this might have been  intentional so that his wife would agree to a fairly equal division of property despite the parties’ differential earning capacity (his wife had been the primary caretaker of the children and home though she worked outside of the home as well).

Cynicism aside – this is a difficult issue.  Rudolph’s arguement that declining to accept the presumption would grant the recipient spouse “effective veto power over the provider spouse’s retirement decision” was wildly exaggerated.   But the Court did impose limitations on when a “supporting spouse” will be able to retire – and for some, the idea of having to continue to work to support a former spouse will seem deeply problematic.


The Mommyprof Track

In many ways, law teaching is an ideal job for ambitious women who value a balance between work and family.  Many (though by no means all) law schools have generous maternity leaves — a semester paid, and if you can time your baby at the beginning of the calendar year or the end of the academic year, you can tack on a summer and win nine months at home with your newborn.  Once you’re back to teaching full time, the flexible schedule makes it possible to spend quality time with children during the hours they are available and to get your work done after the little ones have gone to bed.   And, at least in an ideal world, your colleagues view you as a lifetime investment rather than a disposable worker, so they will be flexible and supportive at this particularly challenging stage of your life.

That has been my experience and that of several of my friends, but I have heard significantly more negative stories from other women, ranging from law schools that refuse to provide more than six weeks paid leave to schools that expect female professors to wait until they have tenure to bear children.  I’ve heard of other schools that require women to “make up” the classes they miss while on leave; I can only imagine what a 2-2 or 2-3 teaching load while juggling a toddler (or nursing!) does to one’s research agenda.  And of course, for all of us, there’s no “part-time” option as a law professor; while working moms in many other fields can opt to work only two or three days a week for less pay, there’s no “mommy track” to tenure.  So while law prof moms often have the flexibility to work from home two or three days a week, those days must be productive and can’t be spent playing with little ones.  (To be sure, that’s just fine with many of us, including yours truly, but may not be ideal for all law prof moms.) Read More


Misogynists at war?

Which factors might predict a country’s likelihood of going to war? Undemocratic government? Widespread poverty? Dare we ask — Islamic religious values?

According to a provocative new study from Valerie Hudson and WomanStats, there is another factor more closely correlated with national belligerence than any of the above: A country’s levels of violence against women. As summarized in the Deseret News:

Look closely at the way women are treated, says Valerie Hudson. Look at the nonchalance with which a nation’s men beat their wives, or the dismissive way a country condones genital mutilation. These are clues, she says, about that nation’s likelihood of waging war. . . .

It has been widely assumed that other factors are more predictive of whether a nation might be unstable or aggressive. The three most likely candidates were poverty levels, lack of democracy, and the nation’s adherence to Islamic values.

But the WomanStats project offers a fourth predictor of a nation’s instability. Violence against women (VAW, in the shorthand of WomanStats) trumps the other explanations, proving to be three times more predictive of a nation’s instability than whether a country is Islamic, and one-and-a-half times more predictive than whether a country is undemocratic, Hudson says.

Read More


Indicating Gender — Status

This post is prompted by Jaya Ramji-Nogales’s discussion of the recent OECD Social Institutions and Gender Index. In her very thoughtful post – with which I entirely agree — she discusses the problems of “empirically measuring and ranking intangible phenomena such as social norms,” And she notes that the OECD publication was not entirely successful.But at least it tried.

In conjunction with a recent conference on state security in Norway, I examined six reports on state weakness to determine their approach to the use of gender equality as an indicator of state fragility or failure. These six reports were issued between 2005-2008 by highly influential U.S. foreign policy institutions, including private and public agencies, and one of them was co-authored by Susan Rice (before she became our Ambassador to the UN). While measures of gender equity are included in other assessments, such as the OECD’s index, the UNDP’s Human Development Report , or Freedom House’s evaluation of global freedom, this simply shows the integration of gender into development or civil liberties markers; these assessments are not self-conscious analyses of state security and fragility, unlike the 6 reports I examined. Apart from the USAID report, the other 5 reports did not use gender as an assessment tool.

Indicators and assessment tools can be important components in establishing state policies and practices towards developing countries. Consequently, the components that comprise each of these evaluative efforts are signs of what is considered critical to ensuring state stability. Donor agencies are increasingly using various indicators to help them evaluate country performance in order to ensure that their resources will be used most efficiently and effectively. While indicators are imperfect – they are subject to errors in measurement, and they take thin slices of complex issues — they are useful, within these limitations, for providing broad-brush pictures of a country’s status. But not if they don’t include gender at all. Gender equity provides a useful measurement of state security, as Fionnuala Ni Aolain, Dina Haynes, and I argue in our forthcoming book. Nonetheless, its significance is virtually unrecognized in numerous evaluations of state fragility, thereby leading to the risk that gender will remain unrecognized in efforts to promote state stability.