Pandagon It's The Eye Of The Panda Fri, 18 Apr 2014 16:56:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Boys’ club Britain: The world’s most sexist country, according to UN envoy Fri, 18 Apr 2014 16:56:30 +0000 A sexist ‘boys club’ culture is rife in Britain, a senior United Nations official said today.

It leads to the ‘over-sexualisation’ of young women and the ‘marketisation of their bodies’ in the media, said Rashida Manjoo, who spent 16 days in the country examining the issue.

She said: ‘Have I seen this level of sexist culture in other countries? It hasn’t been so in-your-face in other countries. I’m sure it exists but it wasn’t so much and so pervasive. I’m not sure what gives rise to a more visible presence of sexist portrayals of women and girls in this country in particular.

‘What is clear from these indications of portrayals of women and girls is that there is a boys’ club sexist culture.’

South African Ms Manjoo, who is the UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women, was here to study domestic and sexual violence, sexual harassment, forced and early marriages and female genital mutilation.

Presenting her initial observations, she said there had been many positive developments in tackling these issues.

But she added: ‘Violence against women remains a pervasive challenge throughout the United Kingdom.’

She also warned that government cuts were already damaging efforts to stamp out the problem.

Women’s groups welcomed her remarks but former Conservative MP Louise Mensch dismissed them as ‘second-rate’, adding: ‘Women deserve better from the UN than this tosh.’

Ms Manjoo, who has also visited Azerbaijan, India, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy and Jordan, will present her findings to the UN Human Rights Council in June.

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Feminism’s Twitter Wars Wed, 16 Apr 2014 10:25:25 +0000 Twenty-one feminist bloggers and online activists gathered at Barnard College in the summer of 2012 for a meeting that would soon become infamous. Convened by activists Courtney Martin and Vanessa Valenti, the women came together to talk about ways to leverage institutional and philanthropic support for online feminism. Afterward, Martin and Valenti used the discussion as the basis for a report, “#Femfuture: Online Revolution,” which called on funders to support the largely unpaid work that feminists do on the Internet. “An unfunded online feminist movement isn’t merely a threat to the livelihood of these hard-working activists, but a threat to the larger feminist movement itself,” they wrote.

#Femfuture was earnest and studiously politically correct. An important reason to put resources into online feminism, Martin and Valenti wrote, was to bolster the voices of writers from marginalized communities. “Women of color and other groups are already overlooked for adequate media attention and already struggle disproportionately in this culture of scarcity,” they noted. The pair discussed the way online activism has highlighted the particular injustices suffered by transgender women of color and celebrated the ability of the Internet to hold white feminists accountable for their unwitting displays of racial privilege. “A lot of feminist dialogue online has focused on recognizing the complex ways that privilege shapes our approach to work and community,” they wrote.

The women involved with #Femfuture knew that many would contest at least some of their conclusions. They weren’t prepared, though, for the wave of coruscating anger and contempt that greeted their work. Online, the Barnard group—nine of whom were women of color—was savaged as a cabal of white opportunists. People were upset that the meeting had excluded those who don’t live in New York (Martin and Valenti had no travel budget). There was fury expressed on behalf of everyone—indigenous women, feminist mothers, veterans—whose concerns were not explicitly addressed. Some were outraged that tweets were quoted without the explicit permission of the tweeters. Others were incensed that a report about online feminism left out women who aren’t online. “Where is the space in all of these #femfuture movements for people who don’t have internet access?” tweeted Mikki Kendall, a feminist writer who, months later, would come up with the influential hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen.

Martin was floored. She’s long believed that it’s incumbent on feminists to be open to critique—but the response was so vitriolic, so full of bad faith and stubborn misinformation, that it felt like some sort of Maoist hazing. Kendall, for example, compared #Femfuture to Rebecca Latimer Felton, a viciously racist Southern suffragist who supported lynching because she said it protected white women from rape. “It was really hard to engage in processing real critique because so much of it was couched in an absolute disavowal of my intentions and my person,” Martin says.

Beyond bruised feelings, the reaction made it harder to use the paper to garner support for online feminist efforts. The controversy was all most people knew of the project, and it left a lasting taint. “Almost anyone who asks us about it wants to know what happened, including editors that I’ve worked with,” says Samhita Mukhopadhyay, an activist and freelance writer who was then the editor of “It’s like you’ve been backed into a corner.”

Though Mukhopadhyay continues to believe in the empowering potential of online feminism, she sees that much of it is becoming dysfunctional, even unhealthy. “Everyone is so scared to speak right now,” she says.

“If you look at the mentions for Mikki Kendall: @BlackAmazon, for @FeministaJones, for a lot of other black feminists, it’s hard for us to see this other stuff as bullying, I’ll be honest with you,” she says. “Because we are getting so much more than ‘I don’t like your article.’ And we’re getting it all day. I had someone who spent four hours last week dumping porn images into my mentions. I’ve had people send me pictures of lynchings. So then when somebody says, ‘Oh, this article is terrible,’ and a bunch of people talk about how terrible an article was, and you say that’s bullying—I’m going to side-eye your definition of bullying.”

The problem, as she sees it, lies in mainstream white feminists’ expectations of how they deserve to be treated. “Feminism has a mammy problem, and mammy doesn’t live here anymore,” Kendall says. “I know The Help told you you was smart, you was important, you was special. The Help lied. You’re going to have to deal with anger, you’re going to have to deal with hurt.” And if it all gets to be too much? “Self-care comes into this. Sometimes you have to close the Internet.”

Few people are doing that, but they are disengaging from online feminism. Holmes, who left Jezebel in 2010 and is now a columnist for The New York Times Book Review, says she would never start a women’s website today. “Hell, no,” she says. The women’s blogosphere “feels like a much more insular, protective, brittle environment than it did before. It’s really depressing,” she adds. “It makes me think I got out at the right time.”

Read the full article at the nation.

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Women are leaving Wall Street Mon, 14 Apr 2014 15:46:30 +0000 Wall Street will not see a woman lead a major investment bank anytime soon, judging by the lack of women on bank executive committees of the major firms, say critics.

Only a handful of the executive roles at the major banks are held by women. And the financial industry, typically dominated by men, will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

“The big question is when we will see a women heading a major Wall Street bank? It’s not happening in the next three to five years,” said Alex Lebenthal, president and CEO of Lebenthal & Company and member of The Committee of 200 (C200), an invitation-only networking organization, composed of female entrepreneurs and corporate leaders.

“I think there are women in the pipeline at different firms, but are they really in the pipeline for front and center roles or just thrown in?” Lebenthal asks.

KeyCorp.’s  chairman and CEO, Beth Mooney became the first female to lead a top 20 U.S. bank in 2011. Since then, the list has been lackluster.

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co and Morgan Stanley are two major firms that have a female CFO, but critics say a lot more progress needs to be made to get women in more senior positions on Wall Street.

“Men are promoted based on potential and women are promoted based on experience,” said Maryann Bruce, who has spent more than 30 years on Wall Street and is currently an independent director of MBIA, an independent trustee for Allianz Funds and a member of C200.

The fact that women are leaving Wall Street isn’t helping.

Blythe Masters

Blythe Masters

J. P. Morgan recently announced the head of commodities, Blythe Masters, will step down, after the recent sale of its physical commodities unit to Swiss commodity trader Mercuria.

Masters, who started at J.P. Morgan as an intern, was with the firm for 27 years and grew the commodities unit over that time. The official firm memo said she will take “time off” but insiders say she won’t be sitting around for long and offers are likely pouring in.

A week after Masters’s resignation, it must be noted, J. P. Morgan elevated a woman into a prominent position at the firm. Joyce Chang was named head of Global Research after a management reshuffle, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. The firm has two prominent female executives on their operating committee — the CFO and head of asset management.

Morgan Stanley’s CFO Ruth Porat, who is one of the highest-ranking women on Wall Street, called the fact that too few women are in leadership positions “embarrassing.”

“Women are still not reaching the most senior levels of corporations,” said Porat, one of two women on the firm’s executive team, speaking at the Japan Society last week.  “This is not the shortcoming of women. We’re talented and smart.”

Morgan Stanley has two women on its executive operating committee.

Networking and finding mentors are key to success for working women, say people in the industry.

“As a woman, you need to understand that you have to find people that could give you guidance and counsel and could advocate for you on your behalf,” said Bruce.

Bruce ultimately went outside Wall Street to look for mentors to get help in her career.

“The women who have joined our network have lower attrition rates from the work force than the average for the professional woman,” said Sallie Krawcheck, head of 85 Broads, in a recent interview with National Public Radio.

“So there’s something that’s happening in the network by bringing together these like-minded individuals, that’s helping these women in their careers.”

Ruth Porat, Morgan Stanley CFO

Ruth Porat, Morgan Stanley CFO

The culture also has to shift on Wall Street, Bruce points out.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc has five women on its management committee, and just one on its executive committee, according to its website. But not one of them is a likely successor, say Wall Street insiders.

Wall Street assumes president and COO Gary Cohn is the likely heir to CEO Lloyd Blankfein, another man. And there is only one women that holds an executive level position out of the 10 executive roles at the firm: Edith Cooper, executive vice president and global head of Human Capital Management.

One of the key drivers to getting promotions on Wall Street is to have experience in the profit and loss part of the business and revenue generation, notes Bruce.

“You had to be able to show you could drive revenue and manage profit and loss effectively,” said Bruce, reflecting on her own career path.

Another issue is women leaving the workforce when they start a family, because they feel they are not supported by their employer.

Morgan Stanley is among a few banks that are attempting to lure women back into the industry after having children. The firm recently started a “returnship” program to help mothers return to the workplace and get back on the career track, in an effort to combat the loss of women in the workplace.

The firm recently announced its new class of managing directors, which included 41 women, or 27% of the total – the highest in the firm’s history, according to a Morgan Stanley spokesman, reported in The Wall Street Journal.

J. P. Morgan started a similar program last year and Goldman Sachs launched the first such program in 2008, according to Crain’s Business. And Credit Suisse AG and MetLife Inc are starting programs this spring.

Bank of America Corp has four prominent women on its executive team, including the head of technology and operations and head of general audit.

Citigroup Inc has 23 people on their executive operating committee and only two of those are women — recently appointed Jane Fraser, CEO of mortgages and Cece Stewart, president of U.S. consumer and commercial banking. The banks could not be reached for comment.

There is a “grass ceiling” on Wall Street, notes Bruce.

“Golf is a big part of the Street and most women don’t play golf, so suddenly they are left out of important discussions,” said Bruce. “So Wall Street has to adapt the culture to adapt to women.”

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The Myths About Women and Immigration Fri, 11 Apr 2014 10:20:56 +0000 Women’s rights activists have long maintained that our national immigration narrative is in fact riddled with assumptions and stereotypes. These preconceptions are made against immigrant women with legal status in this country, some to women with no legal status, and some to both.

Scholar and activist Pramila Jayapal is co-chair of We Belong Together, a campaign launched by a coalition of groups seeking to redefine the priorities of the immigration debate and raise awareness on why immigration reform is basically a women’s issue.

To that end, here are eight of the most common misconceptions regarding the immigration debate that Jayapal has encountered in her work.

    • Most immigrants are male. This misconception has been perpetuated by the major media, which often portrays immigrants as “scary looking men climbing over fences.”Fact: Women make up over half of all immigrants in the United States and three-quarters are women and children, according to figures by the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. In the undocumented category, women number around 4.1 million and the number of children, both boys and girls, is 1.5 million, out of a total of about 11 million, according to estimates by The Pew Hispanic Center.
    • Immigrant men bring necessary skills while women are uneducated or unnecessary for our future labor force.Fact: Some of the fastest growing occupations that will require additional flows of immigrant workers are in industries dominated by women, such as domestic care and elder care. However, these industries are not prioritized for employment visas. In addition, women who enter on their spouses’ employment visas are not permitted to work, even if they have attained the same level of educational achievement as native-born women.
    • Shifting the immigration system to focus on a merit-based system, where applicants are evaluated for the skills they bring, will offer better opportunities for women to come to America.Fact: In the merit-based system proposed in the bipartisan Senate bill that passed earlier this summer, applicants would be given points for qualifications like education and work experience. This would preclude many women from coming to the United States, due to discriminatory policies at home that prevent them from being educated or getting work experience.
    • Women have plenty of legal ways to come to America.Fact: Nearly 70 percent of all female immigrants arrive in the United States by being sponsored by a family member. The family immigration system is an important cornerstone of American immigration policy and is particularly important for women who have few other opportunities to enter the country. Current backlogs that keep 4 million people waiting to bring in an immediate family member disproportionately burden women.
    • Undocumented women are a burden on the economy because they are not performing “real” work that grows the economy.Fact: Nearly 60 percent of the estimated 4.1 million undocumented women in this country work outside of the home, with the majority working in the “paperless” industry, including as domestic workers and care givers, according to The Pew Hispanic Center. The other 40 percent or so are at home taking care of their children and making sure that their households run so that other members of their family can work outside of the home.
    • Immigrant men and women face equal challenges in the labor market.Fact: The wage gap that affects native-born women in the United States is even greater for female immigrants. An immigrant woman who has naturalized earns just 75 cents to a naturalized man’s dollar. Undocumented immigrant women from Mexico are even more disadvantaged, earning only 71 cents for every dollar that undocumented men from Mexico earn, according to a study by the Center for American Progress.
    • Immigrant women choose to cross the border illegally because it is a quick method to gain access to the United States.Fact: Crossing the border is an option dreaded by women. An estimated 70 percent of women who cross the border without family members are the victims of some form of abuse, according to the U.N. Amnesty International reported that as many as 6-in-10 Central American women and girls are raped as they cross Mexico in their attempts to reach the United States.
    • Deportation is an efficient solution. When someone is deported, the problem is solved.
    • Fact: When primary earners are deported, they leave behind an estimated 83,000 partners a year, mostly women, who must deal with lost wages and an increased risk of poverty and hunger, according to a study by Human Impact Partners.
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Obama Puts Pen to Paper to Help Close Gender Gap in Pay Thu, 10 Apr 2014 11:15:02 +0000 President Obama on Tuesday signed two executive measures intended to help close longstanding pay disparities between men and women as Democrats seek to capitalize on their gender-gap advantage at the ballot box in a midterm election year.

Mr. Obama, standing in front of a platform of women in a picture-ready ceremony in the East Room of the White House, said his actions would make it easier for women to learn whether they had been cheated by employers. He called on Congress to pass legislation that would take more significant steps.

“America deserves equal pay for equal work,” he said. Noting that it was “Equal Pay Day,” he said a woman who worked in 2013 had to work this far into 2014 to catch up to what a man earned by the end of last year.

“That’s not fair,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s like adding another six miles to a marathon.” He added: “America should be a level playing field, a fair race for everybody.”

The president, as he has in the past, reiterated that it was “an embarrassment” that women on average earn 77 cents for every dollar men make. But he made no mention of a recent study that found that women in his own White House make 88 cents for every dollar men do. Aides have said women earn the same salary as men of the same rank but that there are more women in lower-paying jobs — an explanation similar to that often given by private-sector employers.

Some critics have said both of those statistics are misleading because they are averages of all men and women in all jobs, rather than apples-to-apples comparisons of men and women in equivalent jobs with equivalent experience. Once such factors are taken into account, they say, the gap is smaller.

“We all support equal pay for equal work and know there’s a problem that must be addressed,” said Kirsten Kukowski, national press secretary for the Republican National Committee. “But many are questioning the Democrats’ motives as they continue their dishonesty about the issue and their own gender gap.”

The Senate is set to vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act on Wednesday, and a memo distributed by the Republican National Committee and two other party committees ahead of the vote noted that it was already illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender. It said Democrats “always seem to wait for an election year to push another empty promise.”

The committees released statistics showing pay gaps in the office staffs of several Democrats up for re-election this year, including Senators Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark R. Warner of Virginia, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.

Mr. Obama responded to the critics. “Some commentators are out there saying that the pay gap doesn’t even exist,” he said. “They say it’s a myth. But it’s not a myth. It’s math.”

The president lambasted Republicans for opposing “any efforts to even the playing field for working families.” He added: “I don’t know why you would resist the idea that women should be paid the same as men and then deny that that’s not always happening out there. If Republicans in Congress want to prove me wrong, if they want to show that in fact they do care about women being paid the same as men, then show me. They can start tomorrow.”

Neither of the actions Mr. Obama took on Tuesday would affect the broad American work force. The executive order he signed bars federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their salaries and an executive memorandum he issued instructs the Labor Department to collect statistics on pay for men and women from such contractors.

But the White House staged a ceremony with the sort of profile usually reserved for a major bill signing. Aides arranged for Mr. Obama to be introduced by Lilly M. Ledbetter, who has become a symbol of the pay gap issue since the Supreme Court ruled that her discrimination case had been filed after the expiration of a statute of limitations. Congress passed a measure named for her changing the deadlines for filing such suits and Mr. Obama made it the first bill he signed after taking office.

Ms. Ledbetter said the executive order signed by Mr. Obama would have made a difference in her case. “I didn’t know I was being paid unfairly and I had no way to find out. I was told in no uncertain terms that Goodyear, then and still a government contractor, fired employees who shared their salary information. It was against company policy.”

Mr. Obama said Ms. Ledbetter’s case belied the explanations often given for pay differentials. “You’ll hear all sorts of excuses: ‘Oh, well they’re childbearing and they’re choosing to do this and they’re this and they’re that and they’re the other,’” he said.

“She was doing the same job, probably doing better. Same job. Working just as hard, probably putting in more hours,” Mr. Obama said, “But she was getting systematically paid less.”

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Feminism’s teen spirit Tue, 08 Apr 2014 16:58:23 +0000 Many people might think that teenagers aren’t interested in feminism, however that assertion would be wide of the mark. Over the last few years, teenagers and twentysomethings across the UK have been organising, setting up hundreds of feminist groups in schools, universities and online, running campaigns against female genital mutilation and the detention of asylum seekers, while also petitioning for better sex education. This generation is determined to change the world, and they’re both intellectually curious, and exceptionally practical.

Their confidence is built on the assumption they were raised with, that they are absolutely equal to male peers. They grew up in an age that was often called “post-feminist”, as if some feminist utopia had been reached long ago, a verdant paradise where men and women lived in perfect balance – equally represented in parliament and public life, paid an equal wage, dividing childcare and career opportunities deftly between them.

But somewhere along the line each of today’s young feminists realised this idea was a myth. Their feminism has been forged in recessionary times, against a broader landscape of austerity and rising inequality, and many have been inspired by the Arab spring, the Occupy movement and fights against student fees. They’re keen to forge a movement that addresses race, class, ability, gender and other discrimination – watch this space.

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The varied, natural new look of female power Sat, 05 Apr 2014 14:45:58 +0000 The look of influential women has never been so varied, so natural and so liberated. The female leaders on this gallery have changed the landscape in every arena, accountable for untold billions as well as countless dreams. Does this mark a new era for women of achievement?

Click to view slideshow.

When Oprah Winfrey arrived on the set of Lee Daniels’ The Butler, in which she was cast in the role of the butler’s wife, she made her presence known by proclaiming to everyone within earshot, “I’m he-eeeere.” It’s been 30 years since Winfrey first appeared on Chicago television, where daily she kicked off her shoes and pulled up her chair into homes across the heartland, one of the few African-American television personalities to win a massive mainstream following of unquestioning loyalty. Trained on twin stars of equality and empathy, Winfrey built a billion-dollar media empire that’s made her a major player in the culture of the country and the turning of the world. Hers was a winning style, something akin to Sir Lancelot’s cheerful song “C’est moi”: “Impossible deeds should be his [HER!] daily fare. / But where in the world / Is there in the world / A man [WOMAN!] so extraordinaire?”

There have been many extraordinary women through the centuries, but in this new millennium the scale on which they are achieving is something quite different. Like Winfrey, Melinda Gates, Christine Lagarde, Mary Barra, Marissa Mayer, and Sheryl Sandberg are at the top of the power grid, accountable for untold billions of dollars. In her No. 1 best-seller, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sandberg exhorts all women to stand out in the structure, to proclaim, professionally, “I’m he-eeeere.” Certainly, the spirit of female achievement is more liberated today. Hillary Clinton, who first attained her high profile as attorney Hillary Rodham (then as the wife of a president, then as senator, then as secretary of state), has become a force more fascinating than her husband. And architect Zaha Hadid seems to have taken the glass ceiling, melted it down, and refashioned it as a Brave New World of biomorphic waves and swells, mother ships into the future. Serena Williams unleashes her will to win with an almost symphonic range of rumbling bass notes and eloquence in the strings. And then there is the philosophical brilliance harnessed to academia (Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust), government (Senator Elizabeth Warren), diplomacy (America’s U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power), and the law (Justice Sonia Sotomayor and California attorney general Kamala Harris)—as well as the kind of dark cinematic visions that women aren’t supposed to have (filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow). Meanwhile, let’s bend the knee to the quiet bravura of Jane Goodall and Alice Waters, who have been leading by example for decades, and are, my dear, still he-eeeere.

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Couples Swap Gender in Interesting Photos Thu, 03 Apr 2014 09:16:31 +0000 3028480-slide-s-switch-01 3028480-slide-s-switch-02 3028480-slide-s-switch-03 3028480-slide-s-switch-04 3028480-slide-s-switch-05 3028480-slide-s-switch-06

At first glance, these photos by JJ Levine look like an average prom-couple portraits. But there’s a twist, the couples have swapped genders from one photo to the next, convincingly (and confusingly) embodying both sexes with just a change of clothing and makeup.

“Are you a boy or a girl?” is not the reaction your average high schooler hopes for on prom night–but in many cases, it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint the actual genders of the people in Levine’s series, called “Switch.” And that’s what Levine is going for–having alternately identified as male and female for years, the Montreal-based photographer seeks to destabilize the idea of gender as a singular, fixed state, instead revealing its fluidity. As in his series “Alone Time,” in which one person is captured as two genders in domestic settings, the ruffled and tuxedoed subjects here confound us with their ability to shift sexes, or to occupy the widely misunderstood space between genders. Each model wears a dress and a luxurious wig when portraying a woman, and a suit when portraying a man–along with masterful makeup by Levine.

The photographer subtly and playfully points out that if such costumes are all it takes for us to make assumptions about a person’s gender, then our cultural understanding of gender must be pretty superficial.

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GOP Needs a Better Pitch for Women Mon, 31 Mar 2014 11:04:49 +0000 At the CPAC panel on “Why Conservatism is Right for Women: How Conservatives Should Talk About Life, Prosperity & National Security” five conservative women did a fair job in pitching conservatives to women but they failed to provide a real, tangible reason why conservatism is for women. They noted CPAC’s own lapses (only one woman spoke on stage during the first day of the conference, most female speakers were placed on Saturday, the worst attended day) and said a positive effort was required to recruit women as leaders and voters.

But, if they came with a message for conservatives to hear from women, the speakers on the panel had scant advice for how conservatives should speak to women. The entire discussion was light on references to specific policy, save for when Sabrina Schaeffer of the Independent Women’s Forum endorsed guns at universities, saying, “You really want your daughter to be defenseless on a college campus without a gun?”

Instead of contrasting Republican and Democratic policies, the speakers contrasted the narratives and expectations of both parties. Kate Obenshain, the author of Divider in Chief, said that discrimination was a real problem, but only Republicans empowered women by not casting them as ”a victim class.”

The moderator, Tammy Bruce of The Washington Times, agreed, heaping scorn on Democratic women who, she said, talk about supporting women, while, in reality, “Liberals infantilize women by saying the government needs to take care of them.” The other women on the panel cheered.

But the women’s own remarks cast conservatives into a victim class of sorts, oppressed by some outside, unreasonable force, that could respond only to power, not to persuasion or negotiation. In order to build a coalition of and for women, these speakers might have done better to crib from the rhetorical strategies Rand Paul used in his speech at CPAC.

Paul opened by saying that his remarks were addressed not to Republicans, but to all “lovers of liberty,” which excluded some of his audience but also proffered an invitation to people outside the usual CPAC crowd. The first thinker and activist he referenced was William Lloyd Garrison, the unflinching abolitionist. From there, he proceeded to trace out a series of attempted tyrannies in American history, and the men and women who, in the words of Garrison, were “as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice” in opposing them.

He strung together the generalized warrants issued by the British that helped spark the Revolutionary war, the wide abuses of slavery and Japanese internment, the personal persecution endured by Richard Jewell, falsely accused of 1996 Olympic bombing, to the present lawlessness of the NSA. His story was united to the past accomplishments of activists, including those who might agree with him on civil liberties but disagree with him on economic or foreign policy. Paul was making a claim about intersectionality, that groups with different personal interests share a broader interest in opposing all tools that could be used for oppression.

The speakers at the women’s panel would have benefited by making a similar appeal to the victories of the past and looking for bridges of solidarity. It is doubtful that the suffragists known as “iron jawed angels” for persisting in hunger strikes for the right to vote felt infantilized by their struggle.

By speaking solely in terms of contempt and condemnation about liberal women, the panelists precluded the kind of solidarity that Rand’s speech offered. If they want the Republican party to offer a compelling message to female voters, it won’t be enough just to elect women, if all they have to offer is a negative message. The Republican party won’t be persuasive unless it can consistently recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of the women’s rights movement, and tell a compelling story to establish their policies as an extension of that legacy.

They could tell a different story, about the powers that women sought and what they used them for.  Carrie Nation sought the vote not just as a symbol of equality, but because the exclusion of women from the polling place meant that the needs of the family were ill-served by the government. She fought against drunkenness, but women today might fight for maternity and paternity leave.

Betty Friedan told the stories of women who were left adrift when they were still expected to be housewives, even as the work of running a household had been automated away.  They wanted to enter the workforce, not just to make money, but to stop being isolated. Learning from her example, we might speak up for the workers whose factory jobs are being automated away or the college students who enter a hopeless job market, trying not only to make them financially stable, but to secure them the dignity of work and to strengthen the local institutions that offer community and relationships.

Tell a story about how women sought rights in order to be able to fully live out their responsibilities to their families, communities, and nation, and then you’ll be ready to ask to carry on the torch they bore.

By Leah Libresco

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Should feminism be taught in primary schools? Sat, 29 Mar 2014 16:25:08 +0000 Our children’s education is reinforcing the idea that it is natural for women and girls to be decorative, whereas men and boys are the active ones. Do we want them to be learning blind faith in gender stereotypes?

For me it all started when my son decided to teach me a song he’d learned at school.

“It’s called ‘Jesus Is My Superhero’ and it’s even got special actions!”

All of which sounded promising, so I settled down on the sofa to watch.

According to Jesus Is My Superhero, the Son of God is vastly superior to a number of twentieth-century cartoon creations. He’s better than Superman, better than Spiderman, better than Batman – you get the idea. I was enjoying the performance but did soon start to get that niggling feeling you often get when you’re a feminist parent – are there any women here? Is there going to be a female superhero? Wonder Woman? She-Ra?  Would Penelope Pitstop count?

“He’s better than Barbie!”

Barbie? That’s right, He’s better than Barbie, the only woman of the lot. Not only is Barbie’s superhero status tenuous to begin with, but her superhero action is brushing her hair. I’ve nothing against hair-brushing, but seriously: flying through the air, catching villains in enormous spider webs – those are superhero powers. But hair-brushing? What kind of sexist nonsense is this? Should they really be teaching this in schools?

It’s a minor thing, I know, but the hair-brushing annoyed me. When I think of the blind faith in gender that surrounds him, I’m not feeling so comfortable. It’s not just that the stereotypes are limiting on an individual basis. They are everywhere and they embed, ever so gradually, the sense that is natural for women and girls to be decorative, whereas men and boys are the active ones. This isn’t what I want my son to learn at school, a place that should be opening his mind, not closing it.

Speaking with other parents, I find I’m not alone in having these concerns. Other examples of stereotyping include: princess and pirate weeks; “tidying up” as a reward for girls while boys get to play sport; football days for boys and cooking days for girls (“but they love it,” apparently); gendered icing colours in baking classes. All this might sound benign – just a bit of fun – but as researchers such as Cordelia Fine have demonstrated, merely being made aware of gender stereotypes – or even just differences, for instance by dividing children up into boy groups and girl groups without further comment  –  can affect performance. At a time when children are discovering new things and working out what they can and cannot do, their aspirations are being distorted by constant reminders that certain activities just aren’t for them.

Of course I’m aware the groups I speak to may be self-selecting. There will be people who see objections to gender stereotyping as a form of heresy and who claim that boys are boys and girls are girls and that is that. To them, what I’d see as a passive “hands off” approach to gender becomes, on the contrary, aggressive, politically correct meddling. For instance, right-wing commentator James Delingpole sees something “rather sinister and Brave-New-World-ish” in the activities of groups such as Pink Stinks and Let Toys Be Toys. Yet what is more restrictive and controlling: a group of parents who want simply children to be able to choose their own colours, or, to take an example from the US, a school who colludes in the bullying of a nine-year-old schoolboy who merely wishes to have My Little Pony on his lunchbag? Grayson Bruce, owner of the bag in question, was told by his teachers that the way to avoid taunts would be to take in something different. Change yourself, not your environment, even if there’s nothing wrong with you. Is this the message educators should be giving children? I accept there’s always a balance between how far a school prepares children for the world as it is and the world as it should be, but I’m pretty sure that in this case, a line has been crossed.

In Feminism Is For Everybody, first published in 2000, bell hooks argues that “future feminist movement must necessarily think of feminist education as significant in the lives of everyone”:

Despite the economic gains of individual feminist women, many women who have amassed wealth or accepted the contribution of wealthy males, who are our allies in struggle, we have created no schools founded on feminist principles for girls and boys, for women and men. By failing to create a mass-based educational movement to teach everyone about feminism we allow mainstream patriarchal mass media to remain the primary place where folks learn about feminism, and most of what they learn is negative.

I realise this will be far too revolutionary for some (James Delingpole, you may need to sit down). But once you start thinking about what schools could do to change perspectives on men and women, some of the things they are doing right now seem not only depressing, but a terrible waste.  And yet it’s difficult, given the pressures that are out there. How far should schools be at the forefront of change? And can they be, even if they try?

My own partner is a male primary teacher. He regularly packs his sandwiches in a lunchbox which is, if not covered in My Little Ponies, then at least a very striking shade of pink. Has this little gesture made any difference to his pupils? Well, they have noticed; so much so that they clubbed together and bought him a blue lunchbox covered with cars as an end-of-term present (“we felt sad you didn’t have one in the right colour”). It’s a very nice lunchbox but it does lead to the question: have we reached a situation where if teachers don’t stereotype their pupils, pupils will feel unsettled enough to stereotype the teachers first?  What lessons are these children learning, and when, if not now, can they ever be un-learned?

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of two who works in publishing.

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