Speaking of Women's Rights: 12/09

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Toasting with a Glass Half Full. Or Half Empty. Or Both.

It seems just about everybody is glad to bid 2009 ‘good-bye, good riddance, don’t let the door hit your rear on the way out’. Before we do, though, I can’t resist one of those “10 (or so) Best and Worst” lists. It’s a reflection of sorts on the status of women in our society, as filtered through the media.

Most Uplifting News:
Old stereotypes can be destroyed. Girls are NOT worse at math than boys -- except in sexist societies. In countries with gender equity, and, I suspect, with stellar educational systems, girls do as well as boys. Sadly, the U.S. has . . . neither. Yet. But at Legal Voice we’re doing everything we can to take care of the equity issue.

Americans believe that women have more of the attributes necessary or desirable to be a good political leader than men do. (No offense intended to great male leaders; I didn’t do the research, I’m just re-reporting it.) Those attributes include honesty, intelligence, creativity and decisiveness, all of which points to more stereotype destruction.

The truth about women's leadership is also emerging, if slowly, in business. A number of studies have shown that women score better on a number of leadership issues, when rated by peers, subordinates and bosses, and that they are viewed as overall better leaders.

For the first time ever, five women received a Nobel Prize in one year, and they included not only women in the arts (not common, but not that remarkable) but also in the sciences and in economics, which occur much more rarely. No longer must we stop our Nobel list-making at Marie Curie.

Women can be just as greedy and immoral as men (back to eliminating stereotypes). Among the AIG executives who resigned in a huff because they might not get paid $10 million or so is corporate vice chair Anastasia Kelly. But some commenters have pointed out that she’s getting much more flak than the men are, and had to work much harder to get where she just was. Okay, maybe this one goes in the second half.

On the Flip Side:
Even though women are widely perceived to have the traits of great political and business leaders, Americans still don't think women make better leaders. And women lag far behind men in holding top executive positions in corporations. What’s up with that? Can you say ‘cognitive dissonance’? Well, I guess not, and that’s part of the problem.

Oh, and women still get paid far less. No need to say more than that (and too many sources to bother citing them). Except that women of color get paid even less than white women, putting them at the bottom of the legendary, and often illusory, American ladder to success.

Also, women’s enormous productivity in the workplace isn’t matched by appropriate laws, policies or societal views supporting adequate (in some arenas, any) paid leave, flexible work schedules, or accommodations for the real lives of women, men or families. For that matter, it’s not matched by true comprehension and acknowledgement of the dimensions of this problem and the havoc it wreaks not only for families, but for our society as a whole and for our economic future.

We still have to count the number of women who win prizes, are great leaders, are considered important, etc. (yes, see the Nobel Prize item above.) When we can’t count them anymore, then we’ll have equality.

Even when we count them, we don’t count them. Voters in the Associated Press poll couldn’t come up with 10 top female athletes who are also women. Come on, people, HORSES? Yes, great athletes, those horses. But I don’t see equines on the list of top male athletes. Actually, let’s debate whether the top 10 males are actually men, Mr. Steroid Guys.

Finally, Ellen Goodman has stopped writing a regular column, four decades after she – and the full-blown women’s movement, really – started out. Yes, she’s only one woman, and no, I didn’t always agree with her, but Ms. Goodman’s insight, passion and wit will be sorely missed. And as she noted, we’re at a point of good news/bad news for the movement, with undeniable progress and much still left to do.

AND WE WILL DO IT. Count on it. Join us.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Can't We All Just Get Along Reform Health Care Already!

Editorialist Timothy Egan gave us this befitting quote in his New York Times editorial last week: “For now, Americans are against “the bill,” whatever they think it is.” It’s not surprising that Americans are confused about the health care reform bill, recently passed by the house and more recently—on Christmas Eve— by an exhausted Senate. Between the name-calling, fact-bending, and outright lying going on, it’s a wonder that anyone is still paying attention.

Though no one has resorted to the“H” word yet (that I know of), there have been allusions to slave ownership Judas’ betrayal of Christ, and everybody’s favorite miserly holiday character. "Not even Ebenezer Scrooge himself could devise a scheme as cruel and greedy as Democrats' government takeover of health care," said house republican John Boehner (OH).

Rep Boehner goes on to say that "Senator Reid's health care bill increases premiums for families and small businesses, raises taxes during a recession, cuts seniors' Medicare benefits, adds to our skyrocketing debt, and puts bureaucrats in charge of decisions that should be made by patients and doctors." Holy cow, that sounds terrible! Except that none of those claims are even remotely true.

Researchers from Temple University conducted an interesting study in 2006 and found that members of Congress tell the truth -- the whole truth -- only about a quarter of the time when debating major legislation on the floor of the House and Senate. It seems like the only way to truly know what the bill contains is to read the thing for yourself. (in your plethora of spare time, of course)

Also concerning is the disconnect between what the American people want and what has actually made it into the bill thus far. As the Pew Research Center notes, only 3% of Americans oppose health care reform over the possibility of abortion funding. (Let’s find some other fun things that a small faction of Americans support: 5% of Americans hold a favorable view of al Qaeda. And let us not forget the 4% who don’t support health care reform, but don’t know why.) On the other hand, 76% of the American public support a public option. Why was an amendment with 76% support (the public option) removed from the bill while one with 3% support (abortion restrictions) remained. Though I’m clear on the fact that this is not a direct democracy, it’s a little disconcerting that what’s happening in Washington seems to be completely disconnected from the desire of the American people.

Tell your Congressional Representatives
to step it up a notch. We hired them to do a job and we expect them to do it well.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Words are powerful

Kudos to Mexico City for turning a beautiful phrase this week as its lawmakers legalized same-sex marriage.

Legal Voice tends to be a bit writerly – we’re wordsmiths and grammar nerds. We’ve spent 12+ hours and counting composing our new vision and mission statement, for crying out loud…

So it’s no surprise that Mexico City’s rewritten definition of marriage warmed our bookish hearts. The precise wording? Marriage is now defined as "the free uniting of two people."

Let’s hope that this isn’t just a verbal victory, but the continuation of a trend that rolls into 2010 and beyond. Legal Voice worked all summer and fall to help pass Referendum 71, which brings domestic partnership rights in Washington State in line with the legal rights accorded to married couples. (You can get all the details in our new brochure on domestic partnership rights.)

Now we’ve got our eye on the big prize: full marriage equality. This week’s news from Mexico definitely bolsters our enthusiasm.

Photo: laverrue

Friday, December 18, 2009

New Dockers' Ad Campaign: Shocking? Offensive? You bet your pants.

My mother often tells me about her experiences as a young woman in college…how the women in her class were actually required to wear skirts to class. It’s hard for me to imagine, as I throw on whichever pair of denim happens to be the near the top of the pile and relatively clean, and head out the door to work. Perhaps it’s partly because of my mother’s stories that I found myself shouting at the above image on my computer screen yesterday morning.

Dockers has unveiled a new ad campaign for its line of khaki pants. The gist? We were all a whole lot better off when men “wore the pants”.

“In today’s world, men have lost a bit of footing, in part because women have come so far,” claims Dockers Marketing V.P. Jennifer Sey. What is with this idea that only one gender can be doing well at any given time?! I have an idea wherein we all prosper together…it’s called “equality.” (ok fine, so I didn’t come up with that one…) Why does it have to be one or the other?

Then there’s this nice little bit from the full-text version of the ad: “But somewhere along the way, the world decided it no longer needed men. Disco by disco, latte by foamy non-fat latte, men were stripped of their khakis and left stranded on the road between boyhood and androgyny.” Yes Dockers advertising team, there’s nothing less manly than a non-fat latte. Clearly. (oh, and way to piss off Starbucks.)

My real problem with the ad is this: While Dockers thinks they’re being all “tongue and cheek” and cutesy, they’re actually perpetuating gender stereotypes that we’ve spent years deconstructing – stereotypes that create dangerous situations for those who don’t seem to fall into the “norm.” And let’s get real here: We all know what “wearing the pants” means in our society. It has to do with power and money, things that have been in the hands of men for centuries. Women have come a long way since the days when a lady in pants was a faux pas. In 1979, the first year anyone kept track of the wage gap between genders (we can only imagine what the numbers were like before then), the ratio of women’s to men’s earnings was 62 percent. The most recent data for 2009 has us making 80% of our male counterpart’s salary. There’s still a lot of work to do on the issue of wage disparity, and a whole host of other gender equality issues. And blaming the decline of our society on our decreasing need for gender stereotyping isn’t going to give us a lick of help.

I can’t speak for potential khaki-consumers everywhere, but the America I live in is working toward equality and acceptance. Let’s hope I am proven correct and this campaign falls flat on its face.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Families: You Can’t Live with ’Em, Can’t Live Without ’Em?

Ah, the holidays. It’s that time of year when family comes into focus – for some, a good thing, for others, perhaps not so much. But for many, the burdens – and benefits – of family are year-round when it comes to family caregiving.

For me, last week was one of those when I said, “Thank goodness for mom.” When my husband and I both found our work travel schedules required us to be out of town simultaneously, it was my mom who got the call to come help with the kids. Her response to our thanks? “It’s just what Korean grandmas do.”

OK, maybe it is what they used to do. But with changes in our society – such as people working longer before retiring, more women in the workforce – let’s face it: our society is facing a caregiving crisis. According to a new report, in the past year, an estimated 65.7 million people in the U.S. served as unpaid family caregivers to an adult or a child.

Predictably, the economic downturn has only made things worse (according to this report), with more caregivers having moved in with their care recipients. And financially, even though 73% of caregivers were employed at some point while they were caregiving (64% in the last 12 months), many report feeling less comfortable taking time off from work to care for their friends or family. Four in ten have experienced a cut in their pay or work hours, and 30% have either had to work more hours or get an additional job.

What’s often missing in the public discourse about the need for “family-friendly” workplaces is that increasingly, we really aren’t just talking about mothers and child care needs. This IS a women's issue - but it isn't JUST a women's issue.

Here are the facts: only 14% of caregivers are caring for their own children. This means that many caregivers are caring for people other than their own children – whether it be a parent (35%), another relative (86%), or even a friend. Kinship caregivers – relatives other than parents who provide care for children – are also a large and growing group. (Some great resources about, and for, kinship caregivers are here and here.)

To be sure, the majority (66%) of caregivers still are female. This means that whatever policies exist – or don’t – to support caregivers have more impact on women. And, more women’s work lives are impacted either in fact, because of conflicts between their work and family caregiving responsibilities, or because of stereotypes about their ability and commitment to perform a job.

What are some of the policies that could help caregivers? Job-protected leave, and, even better, paid time off to care for sick family members. Enforcement of anti-discrimination laws to ensure that caregivers are not treated adversely by employers because of their caregiving responsibilities. Tax credits for caregivers. Voucher programs through which caregivers could receive compensation for at least some of their caregiving time.

So, what am I asking Santa for this year? That ALL family caregivers could enjoy a few more benefits, and fewer of the burdens, of caregiving.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Human Rights Day in Seattle

Yesterday, Legal Voice received the City of Seattle Distinguished Citizen Award for Human Rights. We’re honored. And we’re grateful that the Seattle community continues to strongly support our work.

We must point out that the support of our donors, volunteers, allies and other like-minded folks is the only reason we’re able to do the work that earned us this award. Over the years, with lots and lots of help, we have passed hundreds of bills to enhance and protect women’s legal rights, and provided free legal information to more than 96,000 women and men.

Last night’s chilly weather didn’t deter a roomful of Seattle’s most ardent human rights supporters from gathering at Town Hall to celebrate. We may have been red-cheeked and shivering when we arrived, but were quickly warmed by the welcoming buzz of dozens of smart people who work to make the world better.

There was Sun Lik Zhou, a high school student who entices her teenage peers to talk about diversity and social justice through an ACLU club. Our longtime allies at Pride Foundation received some much-deserved recognition for doling out dollars and support in the LGBTQ community and beyond. Another award went to the women of De Comunidad a Comunidad, who do intensely important organizing work in Washington’s immigrant communities. And Joe Martin, a fierce advocate for low-income folks, raised the roof with his impromptu remarks, which were one part acceptance speech and one part consciousness-raising/call-to-action on behalf of Seattle’s homeless.

The staff of Legal Voice is overjoyed to be included among this impressive collection of do-gooders. Thanks, Seattle.

Photo: Lisa Stone, Executive Director of Legal Voice (center), with representatives from the City of Seattle Office of Human Rights.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Brother, can you spare 100 million dimes?

Five top American International Group executives threatened to quit recently in the latest spat over compensation at the government-owned insurer, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday 12/8/09. The executives are also trying to preserve their ability to collect severance payments if they leave, the Wall Street Journal added, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter.

I almost just left the whole post at that. I mean, what’s to say in response? How about: “You’re kidding, right?” Or, “chutzpah just took on a whole new dimension.” Oh, the options are endless. And yet . . . we do live in a capitalist, market-driven society. Prices for various goods and services are set by supply and demand (or so we tell ourselves when not thinking about agricultural subsidies, various tariff processes, etc.). So, the theory goes, if these executives can command large salaries and the market is willing to allow severance to people who quit in a huff because they’ll have to make fewer millions of dollars this year, then maybe that’s how it should be.

After all, it’s a brutal world out there: A chief executive officer of a Standard & Poor's 500 company was paid, on average, only $10.9 million in total compensation in 2008, so losing some of that could cause a drastic shift in lifestyle. And I have no doubt that they work very hard and are very good at their jobs. (really.)

Then again, amid the outrage that “Main Street” is now unleashing on Wall Street, let’s also consider this: the non-profit sector accounts for 10% of all jobs, 8% of the economy’s wages, and 5% of the Gross National Product. In 2006, the non-profit sector contributed $666.1 billion to the US economy. That’s quite apart from the social good the sector contributes to our country and everyone in it.

And the average salary for a non-profit executive in our community? Just over $90,000.

Now, I am not saying that the director of a non-profit should necessarily be paid the same as the CEO of a multi-national corporation. As the mantra goes, we’re not in it for the money. And $90,00 is a good living, even in this high-cost region.

But this disparity highlights a fundamental problem in our national economy: we (at least in Washington) refuse to pay enough in taxes to fund essential services; we (across the nation) demand that the non-profit sector pick up the slack because we want to slash government spending even further; and yet we look askance at the salaries of non-profit execs and employees. That’s so even for employees of non-profits that really are large companies, like the YWCA or Asian Counseling and Referral Service. These are organizations with hundreds of employees and multiple sites. They just don’t distribute money to shareholders. Instead they ‘produce’ social good and reinvest any money they make into that social good. And for that, we think their employees should be satisfied with satisfaction -- never mind if they can’t pay their mortgage.

Somehow, society assumes that because charity employees are not in it for the money, it’s okay to pay them much less than their counterparts in the private sector. This stems from a couple of sources, I believe. Women are over-represented in non-profit jobs, and the continuing embedded sexism in our society reinforces the willingness to pay charity employees less. Also, because it’s ‘do-gooder’ work that might in the past (or in the near-future, come to that) have been done by a volunteer, it’s acceptable – even preferable – to assume that do-gooders will be content with less money than they would make working for a for-profit company.

And that’s been true in the past. But it’s not sustainable in the long-term. As a society, we will have to decide what we truly value, and at some point we will have to recalibrate our economic scales.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Your New Faux Feminist Friends

Interesting thing I found on the internet yesterday. It’s an article about a study that came out in August regarding the efficacy of prostate cancer screening and the hypothesis that screening too frequently is causing over-treatment. If this is all sounding a little bit familiar, there’s a reason. A few weeks ago the U.S. Preventive Services Taskforce came out with new recommendations regarding breast cancer screening. You would’ve thought that someone had just suggested mass transit in Seattle.

It seems that Republican members of congress didn’t miss a beat, whipping up fury in the feminist community by suggesting that these new recommendations could lead to the rationing of health care under the proposed Democratic health care reform.
You know what else could happen? Space aliens could invade planet earth and take over all medical practices, mandating skin pigment alteration for all Americans. At what point are we going to stop talking about what “might” happen and look at what is actually being proposed?

"To have a task force make the recommendation that has been made, and to have in this bill the authority that's given to various unelected bureaucrats to make health-care decisions, including coverage frequency, in my opinion, is wrong," said Representative Joe Barton (R-Tex).

I ask you this Rep Barton: What’s the difference between an insurance company making decisions regarding what is covered and how often, and an unelected bureaucrat making those decisions? And now I will answer that question: The people on the advisory board have medical credentials and are backed up by scientific data. That’s more than we can say for the typical insurance company executive. And let’s not forget the bottom line in this whole debate; insurance companies are making their decisions based on profits.

There are many things at play here, not the least of which is the fact that the new recommendations actually make scientific sense. Should we think twice about the fact that our society is more likely to call out over-treatment of women than of men? Perhaps there’s something to that. But let’s be clear: These members of congress who want you to think that the potential rationing of women’s health care is their top concern are full of #*$@. They’re exactly the same jerks who want to cut reproductive health care out of the reform bill. They’re simply swinging at anything that might bring health care reform crashing to the ground. Don’t let them get away with it.

If you live in Washington State, come out and join your fellow citizens for a state-wide rally for Health Care Reform. And call, call, call those representatives in Congress!