High School Heroines

High School Heroines


Although it’s happening more and more these days, it’s still newsworthy when people stand up to fight sexism in our society. Especially when they’re in high school. In Utah.

Last month, a group of Young Democrats at Jordan High School held a bake-sale to raise awareness about a very important issue: the wage gap between men and women’s earnings. To do this, they charged young women $0.77 per item, and young men payed $1.00. They did this to highlight that, according to the US Census Bureau, in 2012 on average women were still making just 77 cents to the dollar that men made. So… fair’s fair, right?

Not in internet land! Let the comments begin (I know, I did it again! I’m just trying to make myself angry at this point…):

There’s a few people saying that the wage gap disappears when controlling for certain factors… one woman who cheers on the young kids… another few people who say the Census Bureau is wrong (never any citations, by the way!)…and then… there it is. There’s the battle cry I was looking for. A man complaining that this is discrimination against men. “Celebrate gender equality by being unequal? I guess they don’t teach what the word ‘equality’ means anymore” and a bit later on in his post, “this is blatant sexism masking itself as social justice.”

“This is blatant sexism masking itself as social justice.”

Is it though? Is it really blatant sexism? I don’t think so, sir (the commentor identifies himself as a “guy” in his post, for the record). I would argue that it is not blatant sexism. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. These students are raising awareness that our society still values men *just a little bit more* than women. Sure, it’s only 23 cents more, but that’s more folks. Contrary to what the other commentors on the page said, lots of studies have been conducted controlling for factors like equal work, experience, education, etc. And the gap still exists. So these young people raising awareness that our system is not fair, that our system pays women less for the same work, that our system is sexist? That’s not sexism. That’s fighting against it.

Now, do I think that everything should be priced differently for men and women? Absolutely not, that doesn’t make sense (But it does make me consider why items that are “for women” are so freaking expensive. Anyone buy a box of tampons lately? What about a “female condom”? That stuff is EXPENSIVE….)  But a group of teenagers putting on a bake sale to raise awareness about gender inequality is not discrimination against men. It’s a group of high school heroines.


My New Favorite Fox Correspondent

My New Favorite Fox Correspondent

I am rarely one to send a shout out to a Fox News correspondent. In fact, the only time I ever really watch Fox News is when it’s a compilation of ridiculous clips that Jon Stewart has put together. But, I couldn’t not recognize Fox Sports 1 television host Katie Nolan, who recently blasted one of her colleagues Rebecca Johnson for writing a sexist, dated blog post entitled, “How to Land a Husband at the Masters.”

Johnson’s tips include:

  • Go with another girl. (Obvi, Johnson. We wouldn’t want someone to think we were dating a man we went with. And of course, there’s no way that a girl could be dating another girl.)
  • Dress appropriately. Take off the Lilly Pulitzer skort and golf shoes. Guys aren’t into that. (And women, remember that you are dressing to please the men around you. Not for comfort or because *gasp* the clothes you wear make you feel good.)
  • Smile and have fun. No one wants to approach a girl with a scowl on her face. (You must be in a good mood. All the time. Full stop.)
  • Don’t drink too much. You’re looking for your husband, not a one night stand. (Because you could never marry someone who has a one night stand. That’s obviously off-the-table.)
  • Keep moving. Let’s be honest. You aren’t there for the golf. (Need I say more?)

Just to be clear about the above tips, the parentheticals are my words, not Johnson’s.

Katie Nolan brilliantly trashes the whole premise of this article. This article that is blatantly, overtly sexist. This article that perpetuates old-fashioned ideas about everything that women value… Oh wait. The only thing the article mentions that women value is… a HUSBAND. That’s the only thing women want, you guys! How foolish that I was pursuing other goals in my life.

Obviously, this article irritated me. I am obviously riled up that in 2015 a woman is writing this garbage, presumably writing for other women! And now… now I’m starting to get scared. How many women actually feel this way?

This fear made me do something I don’t normally do. I made a critical internet error. I read the comments section. I was hoping that I would find that all of the female commentators (and lots of men!) would agree with me. And… there were a few great ones: “You are an embarrassment to women everywhere.” ~ AnnMarie H. “AnnMarie is wrong – this article is only an embarrassment to women with self respect.” ~ Chris B. responds. But sadly, for each of those accurate comments, there are at least three defending the author.

After considering this for a minute, I catch myself. Maybe I shouldn’t be so angry? Maybe I should forgive Johnson for writing about how to find a husband? I’m sure that there are lots of intelligent, self-respecting women out there who want to get married to a man who loves golf and is attracted to women in brightly colored dresses and sensible flats. And that is fine with me. Is it wrong that they have these desires? Absolutely not. After all, I’m all for people being free to make their own decisions and pursue their own happiness, whatever that looks like for them.

So yes. I’ve decided that it’s totally fine that there’s an article out there entitled, “How to Find a Husband at the Masters.” But it’s even more fine that there’s a video completely shutting it down. Freedom of speech, y’all.


Adding Insult to Injury

Adding Insult to Injury


As I mentioned in my previous post, I have a problem with our current health insurance system (who doesn’t?!) — specifically with how for the vast majority of people with insurance through their jobs, employers hold power over what should be an individual decision about their health care. As was horrifically evidenced in the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, this linkage allows strangers to have power over which health care options are available to us as consumers, and — completely unsurprisingly — the powers-that-be most often make decisions that disproportionately negatively impact women. And why do these laws allowing these people to make decisions about my health exist? Because, as my hero Dan Savage has frequently said in pointing out the hypocrisy of right-wing politicians, “Conservatives want small government. They want it so small that it can fit inside a woman’s vagina.” So much for personal liberty, eh?

But it isn’t just employers who have the power to make decisions for women. No, it’s pharmacists, too. In early April, a woman named Brittany Cartrett had a miscarriage just five or six weeks into her pregnancy. Her doctor kindly wrote her a prescription for a medication that would allow her to pass the miscarriage without an invasive procedure called a D&C. However, when Cartrett went to the local WalMart pharmacy to fill the prescription, she was told “no.” Apparently, the prescribed medication can also be used to induce abortions and — even though this was not Cartrett or her doctor’s intended use of the medication — the pharmacist stated that she “couldn’t think of a valid reason why [someone] would need this prescription.”

This is a prime example of the country’s cultural and institutional sexism. Six states currently have a law on the books that allows providers to refuse reproductive-related healthcare services to individuals based upon their own religious beliefs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe that these individuals have the right to feel however they want to about religion and procreation. But that should not prohibit them from providing services. That goes beyond the scope of their role. That is not their job.

But, is this truly sexist? Isn’t this more of a religious freedom issue than one of sexism? Some could argue that point. But, I chose to include this story, because we don’t see men being denied anything that their doctor has said is necessary. In fact, there’s no debate as to whether health insurance should cover vasectomies or Viagra for men. But when women want to be in control of their bodies, when women choose to make decisions about how and when they reproduce, that’s when conflicts arise. That’s when pharmacists refuse to provide medication, not for anything related to how the drugs will be used, but based on how they could potentially be used. And that, in my opinion, is sexist.


Shame on UPS

Shame on UPS

Before I begin, a disclaimer. The United States Court system is incredibly complicated. Over the past few years, I’ve begun to understand the system a bit better, but forgive me if I mistakenly present incorrect information about this lawsuit, the courts’ initial decision, and the Supreme Court’s ruling. I’ll do my best.

In October of 2008, Peggy Young sued her former employer UPS under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, for refusing to accommodate her doctor’s orders that she do no heavy lifting (i.e. boxes over 20 pounds) throughout her pregnancy. Rather than transfer her to a job as a truck driver or give her “light duty,” UPS decided to place her on an extended, unpaid leave of absence, during which she lost her health insurance.

Young and her attorneys appealed this decision (twice), and the case ultimately went to the Supreme Court, where — in a shocking turn of events — the majority decided that Young did have the right to sue under the Act. (This is where it gets tricky, the Supreme Court did not actually make a decision on Young’s case. Rather, they bumped it back down to the Fourth Circuit Court, who will decide whether UPS discriminated against her).

Legalese is extremely complicated, but it seems that UPS argued that because their decision to place her on leave was “pregnancy-blind” (meaning that they were considering her “disability” as if it were an injury she obtained off-the-job), she did not deserve any special treatment, and they were not discriminating against her.

A few problems with this: (1) I am still not entirely sure how I feel about people referring to pregnancy as a disability; although we discussed this issue ad nauseam in class, and I know it’s incredibly hard to come up with a definition for that word, it just rubs me the wrong way. And (2) Corporations are heartless.

I understand that it affects the bottom line of a company if an employer gets injured — or pregnant — off the job. But how is it acceptable for the company to put a person on unpaid leave, leading the individual to lose their health insurance when they need it most? (All of this makes me want to jump on my soapbox to talk about how health insurance should never be tied to employment. Every person should have health insurance, whether they are employed or not. It’s a public health issue and our employers should have nothing to do with our bodies… BUT that’s another issue, so I’ll leave it at that.) Employees who choose to have a baby — or God-forbid, get injured — should have the right to remain in their jobs for as long as they healthfully can! Accommodations should absolutely be made in these cases.

I can’t help but think that corporations would treat pregnancy entirely differently if it were men who carried the babies. I have a feeling that companies would be bending over backwards to ensure that men could stay in their jobs throughout their pregnancies, with as little disruption as possible. Allowing them all sorts of accommodations. And think, if men were the ones who were pregnant, companies would already have set policies about how to best keep men happy during this time of their lives. Because they would have written these rules in for themselves at the start. And of course, each and every health insurance policy would make sure to cover fertility-related expenses, all forms of contraceptives, and labor costs. Because men think of men. And our culture follows suit. Men are valued. Men are respected. And women… oh yeah…. I guess we have to deal with them too now.

I’m really glad the Supreme Court said that Peggy Young had the right to sue. Now I just hope that the Fourth Circuit recognizes that UPS’s policy was discriminatory. Apparently, UPS already realized it because *spoiler alert, * they changed their policy; probably due to the terrible press they were getting for being a sexist company. It’s too bad that it takes these long, drawn-out expensive lawsuits to change our culture around sexism. But hey, one corporation at a time. At least there’s change.


Forced to Live a Lie

Forced to Live a Lie


A 64-year-old Egyptian woman was recently rewarded by the President of the country, for being “an exemplary working woman,” proven by her ability to work and be the sole provider for her family over the past 43 years. There’s just one twist to this story: every day that she worked, she did so disguised as a man.

Sisa Abu Daooh, whose husband passed away in the early 70s when she was pregnant with her daughter, knew she must take care of her family, and she quickly realized that it would be much easier for her to earn living wages if she presented as a man. So she wore traditional men’s robes, and she worked in a town where no one would recognize her.

There are two components of this story that deeply frustrate me. The first is that she was forced into this situation to begin with. It’s terrible that she lived (and still lives) in a society that is so opposed to women being a part of the workforce, that she would have been unable to provide for herself and her child without pretending to be someone she’s not. This is a very straightforward and overt example of cultural sexism in Egypt. Although the situation may be slightly better today than it was 40 years ago, there are still many regulations and practices in place to make earning an income challenging for women. Obviously, that’s a huge problem.

My second frustration stems from the fact that she was rewarded for doing this…and nothing else happened. Not that she doesn’t deserve recognition for supporting her family — she absolutely does! Being a single parent, and earning enough to support oneself and one’s child is certainly challenging, and anyone who successfully accomplishes this task deserves accolades. But rather than simply rewarding someone for making the best out of a terrible situation, perhaps we should take a look at how the culture must be changed. In all of the articles I read regarding Daooh’s story, not one referenced any policy changes that were proposed or even discussed. Seemingly, the President said, “Wow. Great job navigating a whole host of barriers. If you can do it, everyone else can too.” This is not enough.

How many stories like this do we need to read? How many times will women fight the system, challenge the patriarchy, find the loopholes, before all of that work — all of that deception — is no longer needed? I get it; she is an amazing woman and she beat the odds. She deserves her reward; and with that said, maybe more than $6,500 would have been nice. But, don’t all women deserve the opportunity to provide for their families? Shouldn’t all women be able to access living wages, without hiding the fact that they are — gasp — female?


Ellen Pao is Awesome: Part Two

Ellen Pao is Awesome: Part Two

As we are all approaching graduation and beginning the (super fun and not-at-all stressful) process of finding jobs, I thought it was appropriate to discuss salary negotiations. According to economists and authors of the book Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation — and Positive Strategies for Change, “men ask for what they want twice as often as women do and initiate negotiation four times more.” This ultimately means that over the course of a woman’s career, she may sacrifice over half a million dollars worth of earnings. Because she didn’t ask.

Now, I want to take a moment to recognize that this language is a bit victim-blaming. The title of the book “Women Don’t Ask” seems to be saying that women are not doing something that they should do; they are not doing something that men do. In our society, being a man is the norm, the standard to which everything else is compared. While I do not at all agree that this is the way our society should be, it would be foolish to argue that it’s not. So I am in support of ways to “level the playing field” as it were.

This book is one way. It speaks about how women can become more comfortable negotiating, and it offers strategies for women to ask for what they want without coming across as aggressive. (Don’t forget, it’s “aggressive” when women ask; it’s “confident” when men do…).

Ellen Pao, has another way. As the interim CEO of Reddit, she proposed getting rid of negotiations all together. She stated that “There’s no way [for women] to win,” in reference to the well-documented fact that even when women do negotiate, they experience negative consequences. In one 2006 study (linked to in the above article), the average evaluator’s willingness to work with an individual who negotiated went down 5.5 times more when the negotiator was a woman.

Getting rid of negotiations during the interview process could certainly help reduce the disparity between men and women’s starting salaries. And it has the added perk of not shaming or blaming women for behaving exactly how our sexist culture has socialized us to behave. Ellen Pao, I think you’re awesome.


Ellen Pao is Awesome: Part One

Ellen Pao is Awesome: Part One

On March 27, Ellen Pao lost her gender discrimination lawsuit against the venture capital firm where she formerly worked. Pao and her attorneys argued that over the course of her 7 year career at the firm, she was treated unfairly, was not promoted, and was ultimately fired due to gender discrimination. But the court, sadly, did not agree. Apparently the sexism she experienced just couldn’t quite be proved, as is brilliantly referenced in this New York Magazine Article.

We’ve talked about this over and over again in class. What’s better: Outright, overt isms? Or consistent, subtle micro-aggressions? They’re both painful; they both cause harm to the perpetrator as well as the recipient. But the more I think about the issue, the more I’m recognizing that micro-aggressions are more damaging. Not because they are any more painful to hear or process, but because the person on the receiving end must go through so much stress simply determining intent. “Did that person say that to me because I’m a woman? Was I reviewed poorly because I rejected his sexual advances? Would they have listened to my idea more intently if I were a man?”

It takes so much emotional time and energy to process these instances of sexism. We can drive ourselves crazy wondering! And beyond that, after we have determined that, yes! That was sexism! Then, we have to bear the burden of proof. If you’re called “a c*nt” in the office, everyone agrees that the perpetrator is sexist. If you’re called “sweetie,” how can you prove that it’s doing you any harm?

That’s the problem with this next-generation sexism. Women often have no allies, no one to turn to for validation, no one who believes their experiences. We’re left with this feeling that something is wrong, but we can’t quite prove it.

Ellen Pao tried to prove it. Unfortunately, she didn’t win in the courts. But perhaps she’ll win in other ways. After all, we’re talking about it, aren’t we?