Women Warriors and the War on Women

up in arms

Obama’s reelection shows that the Democrats bested the Republicans’ War on Women. And with 280,000 women having been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, women go to war. They fight with men. And they die in military combat alongside men. But the United States military, now run by a renewed Obama, has yet to get rid of its own part in the War on Women. It needs to shed all its exclusionary policies and make the military more welcoming for women, instead of putting them in the position of having to sue to eliminate these policies.

Since 80 percent of Army generals come from combat-arms positions, women should have the same opportunities as men to rise through the ranks. While Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta opened 14,000 positions to women, this is not enough. According to the ACLU, 238,000 positions remain closed to women.

Finally, a more disturbing reason the military should end all its exclusionary policies is that there is safety in numbers. The more women join the military, the safer those women will be — not from the enemy, but from their own troops. One-third of all women in the military report being sexually harassed.

Women constitute only about 14 percent of the military. Nowhere near 50 percent is needed to make women safe; according to one report in Scandinavia, the figure to aim for is 30 percent. Once women constitute 30 percent of any office, body, sector, or institution, they can no longer be considered the token or the outside by men, and as such, albeit still a minority, they cannot be marginalized as easily and are therefore less vulnerable to harassment and abuse. The Obama administration should push Panetta into increasing the military from 14 percent toward 30 percent women.

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Bad Gender Benders: Privileging Male Co-Eds & Neotribalism

get it girl

When taking my sons on college tours, there is one question I don’t ask at the information sessions. Being on the consumer side in this situation, my sons have forbidden me from asking that question, which could put them on the defensive (and hurt their chances, since they do get some points from the college for going on a tour).  Here’s the question I’m forbidden from asking: What’s the ratio between men and women?  What is your gender enrollment gap?

Now, if your son or daughter is going to an Ivy League college, no worries.  They are largely 50–50 now, or close to it.  These formerly all-white, all-male colleges with Christian legacies have many anti-legacies to recover from (e.g. anti-Semitic, anti-African-American, anti-anti-affirmative action, etc.).  And if you want to apply to your mom’s Seven Sisters college, be prepared to be as disappointed as I was, if you have sons.  Only one of the sister schools — Vassar — has turned to co-education, back in the late sixties.

Bracket one more set of colleges and universities (those that specialize in arts or sciences, for instance) out of the equation, and where most of America sends its children to college is a different picture — it’s largely women.  Women account for over 60 percent of the college-attending population.  Many liberal-arts colleges that have smaller lab-based science programs are as much as 65 percent female.

Why?  No one has the definitive explanation.  And as Tamara Yakaboski observed three years ago, the “mainstream media male victimization” explanation has less than no credibility: It’s misleading and it blames the victim — those who are underrepresented in writing the rules (laws) or enforcing them (courts).

It not only obscures the problem, but, given the polarizing politics of the last three years with the GOP’s turn harder right — privileging men in a society that practicesneotribalism, repressing women and girls with overt religious strictures from the three main religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) — it is downright dangerous.  Look at what’s happening to women seeking abortion today in Texas.

The media’s male-victimization explanation deserves as much credence as the neocon anti-affirmative-action rhetoric and the GOP’s and Supreme Court majority’s anti–Voting Rights Act position.

The 60–40 ratio matters, of course, because when parents and their children are paying more than the average household income for a state college (not a liberal-arts college), it all matters.  College in the United States used to be a socio-economic leveler.  So here is our second wake-up call — since it’s not.

Higher education has been replicating income inequality, and a comprehensive study of private elite education, I suspect, would find affirmative action for enrolling boys long being practiced.

So of course, I’m happy the girls are cleaning up in K–12, and claiming all the awards. Girls play competitive sports more than ever; and girls enter math and science competitions more than ever.  And it’s not as if these girls are avoiding the creative arts to do so; they are taking away the prizes in creative arts as well.  Indeed, when one of my sons was inducted to the National Honor Society, I was proud he made it, since he was in the minority. At the same time I was proud of all the girls, who took a full two-thirds of all the seats.  It’s about time, no?

And, thankfully, now the gender and income gap question can all be narrowed to: What happens to all these women when they leave college?  What happens to all these women who would like to mix a career with a family?  Law schools and medical schools have been close to 50 percent for many years.

A family, after all, is not a female thing either, so this is where men do need to kick in more effort. Indeed, if they’re not going to college in a curiosity-based competitive economy (pure science now calls itself “curiosity-based science” since “pure” is considered too abstract and therefore too decadent to fund), then we should start adapting our college for more stay-at-home dads, not moms.  Both our sons and daughters would benefit from this kind of demographic shift.

*Tamara Yakaboski. “‘Quietly Stripping the Pastels': The Undergraduate Gender Gap.”The Review of Higher Education 34.4 (2011): 555-580. 

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Supreme Court TV Meets the Cooking Channel?


What’s with all the cooking references?  Yesterday, the Supreme Court listened to oral argument in a case involving a question of power: Does a supervisor, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, have to be someone who has ultimate power over an employee — the power to hire, fire, demote, promote, or discipline?  Or is a supervisor someone with the power to tell another employee what to do?

This case involves the hostile work environment that Maetta Vance endured as a person who told her what to do issued racial epithets and uttered veiled threats.  These are very serious allegations.  Yet three of the Supreme Court Justices seemed to have cooking, sex, and power — quid pro quo — on their minds, when this is a case about something different: a hostile work environment.

If you don’t date me, Chief Justice Roberts asked, can I make you “listen to music, all day long, that the listener found unpleasant”?  Or, as Roberts said, “you’re going to be cutting the celery rather than, you know, baking the bread” if you don’t date me?  What is he talking about?  Is she supposed to cut celery, bake bread, or, as Alito chimed in, cut onions as she listens to the person who tells her what to do throws racial slurs at her?

This important civil-rights case about power isn’t “Listen to my racial slurs, or I will make you chop onions.”  Vance had to endure racial epithets while being made to chop onions.  The employee in charge of telling her what to do had the capacity to exploit this person’s vulnerability, and she did so. “Professors don’t have the ability to fire secretaries,” explained Justice Elena Kagan, “but professors do have the ability to make secretarial lives living hells.”  It’s simple.  These professors have the power to tell the secretaries what to do.

A supervisor is someone who dictates work conditions.  A hostile workplace is about who has the capacity to determine these conditions.  The Justices’ trivial cooking references were less significant than what could be a purposeful misunderstanding of the difference between sexual harassment that stems from a quid pro quo situation — an exchange — and harassment that is not meant to extract a concession.  And a supervisor is simply the person who has the power to make another person’s work environment hostile.

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Supreme Court Not as Positive as Punting or Sending Anything Down or Down River Implies

bat man

When it comes to today’s 7-1 decision, Fischer v. University of Texas, while it was always a federal case, it was remanded down not to the state level* but to the lower level. While it is being sent down (and I earlier reported to the states, no one should think about down as in punting — either kicking footballs or using poles to guide yourself down any tame and civilized rivers — think pole vaulting.  The Supreme Court invites all lower courts to toss out affirmative action plans premised on diversity,which is after all a positive rather than a negative way of viewing race.

I will speculate as to the possible consequences of this decision soon, but the one thing any thinking person can conclude is they will be undoubtedly significant.  Meanwhile read thedecision yourself before coming up with your own conclusion or opinion that there is little gentle about this 7-1 decision despite the strong majority Chief Justice Roberts’ rallied.

*correction (thanks)

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Secret Courts Make Secret Rulings About Secrecy


If the Obama administration stopped collecting our emails in 2011, why can’t it stop tapping our phones?  What inspired the administration to stop, anyway?  What constitutes necessary and unnecessary?  How can you determine what is necessary when you’re referring to a whole country?  The Obama administration needs the whole haystack?

This is what courts are for: to make such determinations, to create such categories, to render rulings for all to follow.  Ordinary courts, that is.  But the court that allowed the collection of all emails is the top-secret court created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  From windowless rooms in undisclosed locations, FISA courts seal all arguments and render opinions that they also deem classified secrets.  So now we can’t find the needle or the haystack.

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Say Bye-Bye Voting Rights Act


So long civil rights, at least for voting, or at least it took a heavy, Die Hard–like blow.  Say goodbye to the VRA (Voting Rights Act), a historic piece of legislation that has become just that — history — as the Supreme Court gutted a key section, ruling the formula for preclearance unconstitutional in a 5-4 decision with Chief Justice John Roberts woriting the majority (winning) opinion.

I certainly thought there would be a man-on-man tussle between Obama and JR (Roberts), as I mentioned in Out of Many, One: Obama and the Third American Political Tradition.  I didn’t quite see it going down like this — man-on-man Die Hard action, with JR more Bruce (Willis) than Matt (Damon).  Well, we all knew that JR was spoiling for a Separation of Powers fight, and he threw a heavy punch this morning at our former civil-rights professor, President Obama.

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Prop 8


Sekhar v. United States

Prop. 8 Case – Californians of Same Sex can Marry if …

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