February 1, 2009
This article in today’s Times is great…well, almost. The article discusses the interesting and creative ways that middle class single mothers are successfully forming their own families of choice, made of up other families like them, who provide each other with emotional support and companionship, outside of the heteronormative nuclear family.
Some single mothers like Fran forgo romantic and sexual relationships for extended stretches, turning to one another for the help and companionship that spouses normally provide — filling up one another’s cellphone directories, thinking through whether to get speech therapy for a child who is talking late, snapping and sharing summer photos. They are friends, and also more than friends. The trips to the Outer Banks that Fran’s group takes represent a step toward an all-female, platonic, chosen extended family.
Cool, right? Until this gem:
For a woman of means to have a baby without a husband seemed to threaten the institution of marriage and, with it, family stability. Today’s single mothers by choice often do their utmost to prove that they’re not a threat to anyone’s social order, as Rosanna Hertz, a Wellesley College sociologist, points out in her study of 65 such women, “Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice.” After the award ceremony, Fran didn’t talk back to her pastor. For her, being a single mom isn’t a form of rebellion. She wants to share in middle-class norms, not challenge them. To spend time with Fran and her friend Nancy is to appreciate them as a couple of anti-bohemians: two middle-aged women in high-waisted jeans and tennis shoes, sitting and talking on folding chairs while soft rock and a mix of sweat and Lysol fills the air during their daughters’ Saturday-morning gymnastics class. Read the rest of this entry »
September 13, 2008
The recent article from the New York Times, “As Barriers Disappear, Some Gender Gaps Widen”
discusses a scientific study that I find highly questionable. Apparently, the same-old gendered personalities keep resurfacing in personality tests. Psychologists disagree on the origin of the differences: evolutionary vs. socialization. The article asserts that the latter believes that
personality differences will shrink as women spend less time nurturing children and more time in jobs outside the home.
So the effect of “traditional gender roles” will be eradicated when women are in the workforce more and do child care less? That seems overly optimistic at best, naieve and ignorant about the pervasiveness of gender socialization at worst. But that’s not my real critique.
Several research groups have been studying personality tests sorted by gender on a global basis, and have found that the gender gap in personality tests is smaller in countries that have “more traditional” cultures. What I think they mean by poorly-worded and undefined “traditional” is less industrialized and perhaps more institutionally religious. Because the U.S. sure has a kind of “traditional culture” too–of capitalism and consumerism. What their designation really refers to, in my view, is cultures that are more obviously and directly patriarchal, since the article says,
A husband and a stay-at-home wife in a patriarchal Botswanan clan seem to be more alike than a working couple in Denmark or France.
But again, not my main point.
Since this seems counterintuitive to researchers–surely, our more “advanced” societies, full of legal equality and post-post-industrial economies and wealth coming out of our asses should have less gender disparity in individual personalities. So after another study, looking at 40,000 people, on researcher has concluded that
as wealthy modern societies level external barriers between women and men, some ancient internal differences are being revived.
(I think he meant to say “less external legal barriers.”)
The very next statement in the Times article completely contradicts the researcher’s own conclusion, if you actually think about it:
The biggest changes recorded by the researchers involve the personalities of men, not women. Men in traditional agricultural societies and poorer countries seem more cautious and anxious, less assertive and less competitive than men in the most progressive and rich countries of Europe and North America.
Gee, assertiveness, competitive, lack of concern….surely the presence of these qualities has nothing to do with, for one, western constructions of masculinity?! And what is the implication then, that non-western, less industrialized male populations are too “feminine”? I thought the anti-feminist work of Kathleen Parker already told us that feminism has emasculated American men?! The study itself says the following:
masculinity–femininity describes the extent of emphasis on work goals (earnings, advancement, and assertiveness) as opposed to interpersonal goals (friendly atmosphere, getting along with the boss) and nurturance (higher masculinity–femininity scores reflect masculinity)
Interestingly, but not unsurprisingly, a very Western definition of gender. No wonder “traditional” cultures, that may not make the gendered public/private divide the same way it has been made in industrial and post-industrial American culture, seem to have less gendered personalities. The researchers used a cultural definition of gender as a neutral “fact” of “sex” and then applied them to other nations and cultures whose notions of gender are likely different, and not because they are “less than.” (see p. 172 of the study for more equally problematic indicators of gender equality). I’ll come back to this ethnocentrism. Read the rest of this entry »
August 14, 2008
I had this same criticism a month or so back, the last time I saw a newspaper headline about female bombers, but I didn’t write about it then. Today, in reading the New York Times, I read: “Female Suicide Bomber Kills 2 in Iraqi Province.”
Now, it’s not that I don’t understand the significance of female suicide-bombers in particular. While this story doesn’t address it, past articles with similar headlines have at least mentioned,
Fifteen other women have carried out suicide bomb attacks in Diyala Province, according to General Rubaie. Islamic rules prevent men, including security officers conducting searches, from touching women. Compounding the predicament is a scarcity of female Iraqi police and soldiers who might otherwise fill the gap.
While I am somewhat annoyed when stories, such as today’s, mention a female bomber in the headline, but don’t discuss why that’s significant in the story, I take issue more with the persistent selective gender-naming. Male suicide bombers are reported in headlines as “suicide bombers”; female suicide bombers are “named” as such. I have blogged on this in the past in discussing ex-nomination, and Ashley guest blogging over at Feministe interestingly argues that women’s gender is specified when they perpetrate acts of violence to detract from the reality that men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of violent acts. The repetition of women’s gender in such reports works to mask violence as a gender-neutral activity. My issue is at a more basic linguistic level. Previously I wrote:
In conversation (your own and others’), watch how people are described. Typically, we use “identity” descriptors only with reference to women, gay men, lesbians, people of color, non-Western ethnicities, (and also non-Christian religions)…in other words, the default category for a “person” is a white, hetero, male. A person is only someone “other” than that when specified.
This is what’s referred to as “ex-nomination” (coined by the semiotician Roland Bathes)-being ‘unnamed’. What is unnamed is what is seen as a ‘natural’ commonsensical category. Those of us who are not white heterosexual men become those with “marked bodies”-bodies who must be named to be identified. In other words, people who are women, or black are designated as such (as if identifying them according to said label adds particular meaning to who they are as a person), while white hetero men are simply “people,” and are thus permitted to establish meaningful identities in ways not shaped by said societal identity labels.
These headlines bother me for that reason: that it perpetuates the assumption that an individual is a (white, hetero) male unless specified otherwise.
It’s true that we also specify male for characteristics that are deemed “female” (a.k.a. “male nurse”), which could in part account for its usage in headlines–because we assume suicide bombers to be male. But Western assumptions are no excuse for the persistent usage of gendered terms by journalists. Would it really be so hard to say “suicide bomber” in the headline and then to discuss the gender and its implications, if necessary, in the body of the story? Or since gender is in fact an issue, use male and female descriptors in the headlines? Otherwise, we reinforce the notion of male as default.
UPDATE 8/15: Funny that this is a trend I have been seeing, and as soon as I write about it, the NYT changes its pattern: see today’s “Bomber Kills 18 on Shiite Pilgrimage in Iraq.” The “bomber” is actually a female! Now that’s a first! I think I have some sort of “special powers” regarding the NYT, because I also recently wrote about how they consistently place stories about women in Fashion and Style (I also sent the editor a displeased e-mail), a few weeks later I see a story that is actually in the appropriate section! Hmmm…are they reading my blog?!
Not that they deserve a congratulations for doing their freaking jobs right, but I’m taking notice.
July 28, 2008
Yea for The New York Times reporting on BlogHer’s annual conference.
It’s pretty pathetic that I should be so thrilled that the recent news about gender-parity in math scores was actually reported by the Times in the U.S./Education section. Yes, it’s awfully nice that the Times was actually able to put a story about females in its proper place in their paper. But actually doing their job doesn’t get them any cookies.
So, dear readers, I write letters:
Dear New York Times Editors:
Overall, I appreciate the quality of your paper and it is one of my primary sources for obtaining news. However, your history of inappropriately filing news items that involve women is obscene and, quite frankly, is unacceptable, especially for a new source of your report.
The most recent example is the coverage of the 2008 BlogHer conference, printed July 27, 2008 in the Fashion and Style section. Other articles about bloggers and blogging are printed in more substantial sections like the Technology or U.S. Politics sections. I understand that your placement often relates blogging to another topic (i.e. business, the election) but the “default” category for blogging (or any topic) women is not Fashion and Style. And since the article specifically addressed women blogging as a political act, it does not belong in the Fashion and Style section.
On July 13, 2008, you also ran the joint review of books by feminist author and blogger Jessia Valenti and journalist Kathleen Parker, which adressed contemporary gender-based political issues. It belongs in the Books section, not the Fashion and Style section.
Other female bloggers have written about your story misplacement when it comes to stories about women. May 13, 2008’s story about the lack of gender diversity in the sciences (obviously) belongs in the Science section, not the Fashion and Style section. And the list goes on.
It’s great that you’re writing about gender issues, exciting studies debunking harmful gender myths, feminist writers, and women’s activism. But putting these stories in Fashion and Style, rather than where they’d be put if they were about men, is nothing short of insulting and condescending, as if issues facing and addressed by women are somehow frivolous and irrelevent to society as a whole.
Issues and news related to women do not by default belong in the Fashion and Style section of your paper. Fashion and Style is not inherently a “female” topic and gender analyses are not periperal, light, fluffy, innocent, and inconsequential. Do not insult us and degrade us by treating women who are active in politics, do science, are participating in technology, and the like, as mere “style.”
And I encourage you all to do the same. No copyrights on my letter, either: steal away!
July 13, 2008
As much as it made me nauseous to read Kathleen Parker’s quotes in New York Times‘ recent review of hers and Jessica Valenti’s new(ish) books, it made me even more ill to see that, yet again, gender politics have been relegated to the “Style”-“Fashion & Style” section. That section is also home to “Dining & Wine,” “Home & Garden,” “Weddings/Celebrations,” and “TMagazine.” The subheader to the review title “Endangered Species or Still the Enemy?” (because clearly gender is either akin to biological survival or war) is “Books of Style.”
Books of style? Gender issues have incredible political, economic, and social implications, and books discussing them are ‘books of style’? Seriously, WTF?! Or should I have expected this from a review that uses the antiquated and inaccurate term “battle of the sexes” to describe the problems these books address.
I may be going out on a limb here, but shouldn’t this book review be in, um, books?
Dear New York Times,
Book about gender issues are books. They are neither style nor fashion, lifestyle nor ‘non-news.’ They are not frivolous, expendable, or irrelevant. Gender studies texts are important, provocative, meaningful, and essential books.
Please list them in the “Books” section.