Tag Archives: gender equality

Abortion is not a holocaust, and feminism is not about convenience

a photo of a cute pig next to a 16-cell human embryo .

Pig (left) and human.

Quick, disorganized comment on abortion.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, who opposes abortion rights, recently wrote in defense of the Kevin Williamson, fired from the Atlantic, for saying this, before he was hired:

Someone challenged me about my views on abortion, saying, “If you really thought it was a crime you would support things like life in prison, no parole, for treating it as a homicide.” And I do support that. In fact, as I wrote, what I have in mind is hanging.

Douthat thinks feminists are just as extreme as this, but even worse because they’re on the wrong side (the side in favor of the baby holocaust).

Douthat is concerned that abortion is “justified with the hazy theology of individualism.” When he says that what he’s insulting is feminism. He’s mocking us for being stupid (hazy) atheists who don’t realize secularism is just another theology (like Chris Smith does). And “individualism” refers to the idea that women have rights. Privilege is congratulating yourself for exposing oppressed people’s struggle for liberation as actually being about their individual self-gratification.

In claiming to make a moral argument, he pits this claim to women’s individualistic convenience against the holocaust:

the distinctive and sometimes awful burdens that pregnancy imposes on women have become an excuse to build a grotesque legal regime in which the most vulnerable human beings can be vacuumed out or dismembered, killed for reasons of eugenics or convenience or any reason at all.

There are no men, no patriarchy, in this telling, and that’s telling. It is important to say, which Douthat won’t, that abortion rights are women’s rights, that women’s rights are not about some decadent “individual” rights but about systemic group oppression perpetrated over millennia, especially by religion (especially by Douthat’s religion, Catholicism).

Douthat wants to take the abortion debate to the moral plane of “the killing of millions of innocents” (his phrase) versus feminist selfish self-indulgence. He is egging on his fellow anti-feminists, pushing them to take this extremist position while decrying the extremism of feminists. Organized anti-feminism doesn’t want to say abortion is really really murder because then women will turn against them, because women aren’t idiots. The mainstream abortion rights movement doesn’t want to say fetuses are human because it makes abortion seem worse, plus for early-term pregnancies it’s really not true. Still, we should argue about abortion as if it’s a decision that matters, not only as if it’s the restriction of the right to make that decision that matters. Unfortunately, Roe v. Wade was not decided on the principle that women can take a fetal life when it’s inside their own body, but on the principle of respecting women’s privacy rights to make personal decisions. This makes it harder to have the real feminist argument. I’m with Douthat that we should have a real moral argument, which he in his sneering at “individualism” actually refuses to engage.

Only religion can say all fetuses are instantly human; any scientific understanding exposes this incontrovertibly as just crazy talk. But abortion rights don’t depend on fetuses not being human at all. If you want to take the argument off the religious turf, you have to acknowledge that there is no moral instant when a fetus becomes human — science can’t locate that transformation more precisely than sometime between conception and birth. For that matter, there is no moral bright line between human and animal as far as suffering and death, that separates a human from a chimpanzee from a pig from a dog. (Many of us are, after all, not fully human ourselves, but part homo neanderthalensis.) There is moralizing, but not morality, in approving the grotesquely cruel slaughter of billions of sentient animals for “convenience or any reason at all,” while labeling women who abort sixteen-cell fetuses as murderers.

Ending life is a serious moral decision, of the kind Douthat and others are comfortable letting men take in many ways, in wars, and corporate decisions, and state policies, and slaughterhouses. Abortion rights mean women deserve that responsibility, too. Abortion rights don’t rest on the inconsequentialness of the decision but on the humanity of women. There is no reason to shy away from that. Catharine MacKinnon, who is aging well on this, wrote in 1983:

My stance is that the abortion choice must be legally available and must be women’s, but not because the fetus is not a form of life. In the usual argument, the abortion decision is made contingent on whether the fetus is a form of life. I cannot follow that. Why should women not make life or death decisions?

That’s my attempt to defend abortion rights without relying on euphemism and evasion or the hazy theology of individualism.

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Why are only 29% of NYTimes.com front page authors women?

In December I picked a moment to audit the gender composition of authors at the New York Times and Washington Post websites. Not many were women. Here’s a follow-up with more data.

For some context, according to the American Community Survey (IPUMS data extraction tool), there were about 55,000 “News Analysts, Reporters and Correspondents” working full-time, year-round in 2012. Of those, 41% were women. This pool of news writers is small compared with the number FTYR workers who report their college major was in journalism: about 315,000, of whom 53% are women. Lots of journalism majors work in other careers; lots of news writers weren’t journalism majors.

So, how will the premier newspaper in the country compare?

Methods

I stuck with NYTimes.com, and checked the gender composition of the bylines that appeared on the front page of the website just about every day between January 8 (the first day of their website redesign) and February 9, for 26 observations over 32 days. I checked whenever I thought of it, aiming for once a day and never more than once per calendar day. I excluded those in the “most-emailed” or “recommended for you” lists. I included Op-Eds and Opinion columnists if they were named (e.g., “Friedman: Israel’s Big Question”) but not if they weren’t (e.g., “Op-Ed Contributor: Czar Vladimir’s Illusions”). On average there were 16 bylines on the front page.

Someone — looking at you, Neal Caren — could scrape the site for all bylines, but in the absence of that I figured a simple rule was best. To check the gender of authors, I used my personal knowledge of common names, and when I wasn’t sure Googled the author’s photo and eyeballed it (all the authors I checked had a photo easily accessible). Overall, I counted 421 named authors (including duplicates, as when the same story was on the front page twice or the same author wrote again on a different day).

Results

Twenty-nine percent of the named authors were women (124 / 421). Women outnumbered men once (8-to-6), on February 8 at 2:35 AM. At the most extreme, men outnumbered women 18-to-1, at 8:12 AM on January 14.

Here are the details:

nytimes percent female authors.xlsx

Discussion

The New York Times is just one newspaper, and one employer, but it matters a lot, and the gender composition of the writers featured there is important. According to Alexa, NYTimes.com is the 34th most popular website in the U.S., and the 119th most popular in the world — and the most popular website of a printed newspaper in the U.S. In the JSTOR database of academic scholarship, “New York Times” appeared in 117,683 items in January 2014, 3.7-times more frequently than the next most-common newspaper, the Washington Post.

I don’t know the overall composition of New York Times writers, or their pool of applicants, or the process by which articles are selected for the website front page, so I can’t comment on how they end up with a lower female composition on the website than the national average for this occupation.

However, it is interesting to hold this up to the organizational research on how organization size and visibility affect gender inequality. Analyzing data from almost 300,000 workplaces over three decades, Matt Huffman, Jessica Pearlman and I found strong evidence that larger establishments are less gender segregated. To explain that, we wrote (with references removed for brevity):

Institutional research on organizational legitimacy implies that size promotes gender integration within establishments, because size increases both visibility to the public and government regulatory agencies and pressure to conform to societal expectations. Size is positively correlated with the formalization of personnel policies and other practices, and formalization is thought to reduce gender-based ascription by limiting managers’ discretion and subjectivity and holding decision makers accountable for their decisions.

The New York Times certainly is a high-visibility corporation, and the effects of its staffing practices are splashed all over its products through bylines and the masthead. In fact, maybe that visibility is to thank for the integration it has accomplished already. Of course it’s complicated; we also found that the gender of managers, firm growth, and other factors affect gender integration. Maybe to help figure this out someone should repeat this count over a longer time period to see how it’s changed, and how those changes correspond with other characteristics of the company and its social context.

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Equality, inequality (let’s call the whole thing off?)

Over on the Orgtheory blog, Fabio Rojas created a stir in (two posts) for saying both that “feminists killed feminism” — and that feminism has won. (My most recent related comment might be this “still a patriarchy” post.)

Anyway, here’s a Google ngrams interpretation: the share of all references to “gender” that “gender equality” and “gender inequality” each command (details here):

equality-inequality-ngram

The use of “gender equality” took off, relative to “gender inequality,” right around the time the trend toward gender equality stalled on most measures (and a little while after working moms started replacing working mothers).

Is the use of “equality” triumphalism (pro), fatalism (con), or a more positive feminism?

Previous ngrams posts.

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End of Men conference video online

Now online, streaming video of all sessions from the conference at Boston University School of Law titled, “Evaluating Claims about “the End of Men”: Legal and Other Perspectives.”

The full lineup of sessions is listed here.

My presentation, which summarizes my writing on Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men through the first week of October, is at this link, and this screen grab shows where the slider is at the start of my talk:

Unfortunately the slides are hard to make out, but most of the figures I used are on the blog here under the Hanna Rosin tag.

Finally, some version of all this will appear in an edition of the BU Law Review in May 2013.

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Converging toward equality (When a tipping point disappoints)

The story of women’s employment is not dominance, flipping, or tipping points—it’s convergence towards equality.

cohen_convergencephoto_thumb.jpg

The story of women’s employment is not dominance, flipping, or tipping points—it’s convergence towards equality.

In the first period of the recession, employment rates fell faster for men than for women. And for a moment at the end of 2009, women crossed the 49 percent threshold in their share of one measure of the labor force: the “B-5 series,” or nonfarm payrolls, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It excludes farmworkers and self-employed people, who are mostly men, so it leans more female.

Word spread like wildfire. The Economist was among the first to call it out:

At a time when the world is short of causes for celebration, here is a candidate: within the next few months women will cross the 50% threshold and become the majority of the American workforce.

The New York Times put the trend in global context this way:

Across the developed world, a combination of the effects of birth control, social change, political progress and economic necessity has produced a tipping point: numerically, women now match or overtake men in the work force and in education. … this year, women will become the majority of the American work force.

In the 2009 preface to the Shriver Report (“A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything”), John Podesta wrote that the effort was inspired by:

a major tipping point in our nation’s social and economic history: the emergence of working women as primary breadwinners for millions of families at the same time that their presence on America’s payrolls grew to comprise fully half the nation’s workforce.

Ever since The Tipping Point, no one in the American media wants to miss the next big tipping point. For some reason reporting on demographic trends has been especially susceptible, even though they rarely fit the epidemic model the Malcolm Gladwell laid out — in which small innovations explode out into major trends for unpredictable reasons.

That’s not what women’s employment trend looks like at all. Here is that nonfarm employment series, from 1964 to 2012 (through October):

cohen_convergence.png

The long-run news is the huge increase in women’s share of this labor pool. The medium-run news is the 15 years of stall from 1992 to 2007. The latest news is the increase since 2007, which moderated as women’s job losses partially caught up with men’s. That moment was not a triumphant entry into a new era, but rather a dramatic illustration of the hit men took at the start of the crisis.

In my last post I showed that underlying economic pressure toward women’s employment has cooled since the 1970s. The data give us very little reason to expect a sweeping economic shift that privileges women’s jobs in the near future.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a dramatic story—it’s just a story about convergence toward equality rather than women’s dominance. When I say convergence I mean that two ways: convergence between women and men, and convergence in the pattern across the rich countries of the world. Here is women’s share of civilian employment for the 18 OECD countries with consistent data from 1970 to 2011:

cohen_convergence2.png

Women have increased their share in every country. But no country has crossed the 50 percent threshold, and most show tapering or slowing progress as they approach it. Some exceptional countries—especially Spain, Ireland, and Italy—continue to rise quickly, but they were catching up from a low point in 1970. Maybe in next decade or so some of these countries will cross 50 percent, but from the slowing pace of change it doesn’t look like it will be a stampede over the line. In fact, the most dramatic thing about this figure may be the convergence between 45 percent and 50 percent, where 13 of the 18 countries now lie.

Maybe it’s the winner-take-all, 50 percent+1 nature of the American discourse that creates this unhealthy focus on dominance, as if that can be captured by a single indicator passing a 50/50 threshold. 51 percent isn’t an on-switch for social dominance. If we could get out from under these 51 percent-take-all narratives we might be able to appreciate the progress that we have made toward gender equality, and focus on the obstacles that impede further movement in that direction.

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Women at the top: comment for Orgtheory

Over at Orgtheory, Isabel Fernandez-Mateo has a comment on why there are so few women at the top of the work hierarchy – and her research to look into it further. They invited me to offer a comment in response, which you can see there as well.

I wrote, in part:

We especially need to consider the role of state policy in shaping family-career interactions over the life course. When adequate family leave is not available, when health care is too expensive, when high-quality preschool education is inaccessible or too expensive, when the state-sanctioned workday is too damn long – all that increases the pressure that women’s family obligations place on their career trajectories.

If you don’t already read Orgtheory, I hope you will check them out.

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Debunking End of Men, “Myth of Male Decline” edition

Stephanie Coontz has an excellent essay in the New York Times Sunday Review, “The Myth of Male Decline,” which includes some numbers from this blog and my upcoming review of Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men.

Here’s the figure they made from the numbers I provided:

The top half is from this post, using Bureau of Labor Statistics data from this year.

The bottom half is new, extending the debunking of the young-women-earn-more-than-young-men meme. This is an important angle because it shows the fallacy of Hanna Rosin’s description of young women as usually earning more than the men they work with. At the same level of education, even among these oddly-sliced 20-somethings — no kids, never married, full-time workers — women are not outearning men.

I’ve tried to chip away at this meme a few times before:

And I’ve created a series of posts on The End of Men, which are under this Hanna Rosin tag.

There’s also a great graphic showing the changing gender composition of selected occupations, using data from David Cotter, Joan Hermsen and Reeve Vanneman.

Coontz’s essay is great for drawing the distinction between the real progress toward gender equality — which is also limited, and in important areas stalled — and the fantasy of female domination.

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