Gwen- The Homeless American Girl Doll

1 10 2009

According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, one out of every 50 children in the US is homeless.  And the American Girl doll company seems to be trying to take a stand on this issue…by providing a new homeless American Girl doll named Gwen for the exorbitant price of $95 (talk about irony).  The doll, “Gwen,” has been quite controversial in the media lately.  Whereas some see this as a positive step towards promoting tolerance during the economic downturn, others see it as really poor taste.


Let me point out that “Gwen” is not new news.  She is a limited edition doll who has been around for quite a while.  But, the media only seems to have picked up on the story quite recently.  Gwen’s biography on her Wiki page reads:

Gwen and her mother Janine fell on hard times when her father lost his job; they later lost the house as they were unable to keep up payments. Soon after, Gwen’s father left them and they became homeless the fall before the start of the book’s events. Initially, Gwen’s mother has them live in their car until the winter comes; she then takes them to Sunrise House, a place for homeless women and children. Sunrise House helps them get on their feet and eventually get a new apartment.

Gwen is presented as a companion doll to Chrissa, the first “Girl of the Year” doll.  Gwen is one of Chrissa’s friends, and Chrissa’s movie and books include scenes of her defending Gwen from school bullies.  Sonali, Chrissa’s other “friend” companion doll is also available for purchase.  Bitch Magazine asks:

Does the fact that homeless-shelter Gwen and “at least part South Asian” Sonali are sidekicks rather than Girl-of-the-Year themselves contribute to the other-ing and tokenizing of disenfranchised or non-white young girls? Or is it good that they’re getting the American Girl Doll treatment at all?

CBS sent a correspondent to an L.A. homeless shelter to get some reactions to the doll.  One woman in the shelter claimed that the doll touched her heart, but was disturbed to discover that the doll was not actually being used to raise money to help the homeless.  Others in the shelter found the creation of the doll in itself offensive.  The American Girl company claims the doll “offers valuable lessons about life.”  The company also notes that although no proceeds directly from the sale of Gwen dolls and related items go to help the homeless, the company has donated nearly $500,000 since 2006 to HomeAid, a national nonprofit group that seeks housing for homeless people.

Another concern about the doll is that instead of teaching tolerance, the doll is just promoting complacence.  Some fear that the doll sends the message that homelessness is an acceptable aspect of society, and that it is perfectly okay to have some children be homeless while others are privileged (and buying $95 dolls).

Andrea Peyser at The New York Post is especially upset by the doll.  She says:

What message is being sent with Gwen?

For starters, men are bad. Fathers abandon women without cause. She’s also telling me that women are helpless. And that children in this great country, where dolls sell for nearly 100 bucks a pop, are allowed to sleep in motor vehicles. But mothers don’t lose custody over this injustice. Because, you see, they are victims, too.

I am really very perturbed by Peyser’s implication that a woman should lose custody of her children if she is abandoned, loses her job, and is forced to be homeless.  And Gwen’s mom in the stories is not actually “helpless” at all, but is struggling nobly with Gwen to make ends meet and to survive.  There are women who are abandoned by their husbands (yes, Peyser, sometimes completely without “cause”), lose their jobs, and are thrown into poverty, and the fact that Peyser implies that these experiences are unheard-of is really ridiculous and offensive.

I can see where the company was trying to go with this doll, and I think as a child I would have really identified with this character, given my background.  In some ways, it is really nice to see a doll acknowledge other family experiences and it might have been comforting as a child for me to see that there are other families who struggle, and other children abandoned.  I remember having so many images of perfect families thrown at me that I really felt inadequate and abnormal in a lot of ways.  A lot of criticisms of the doll have focused on preserving children’s innocence, arguing that this doll is inappropriate for children.  But to assume that children live in a bubble is kind of ridiculous to me.  The truth is, a lot of children are feeling the impacts of the economy firsthand.  A lot of children struggle with family issues.  These problems exist, and it seems irresponsible to act as if they do not.

But $95 is ridiculous.  And perhaps, like Bitch Magazine points out, Sonali and  Gwen aren’t quite being given their due.  Do Gwen and Sonali’s position as “companion” dolls somehow make them seem “less-than” and other-ized?  Why must Gwen be the quiet insecure girl who is bullied and called names, but is then so nobly defended by her savior, “Girl of the Year” Chrissa?  Is “Gwen” actually a successful attempt at teaching children acceptance?  Or is it just another marketing ploy to make big bucks by exploiting other peoples’ misfortune?  Is the irony too much to bear?

Sunday Catch Up

26 07 2009

Here are a few things we missed:

This Is What Rape Culture Looks Like.

A woman walks into a rape, uh, bar…

New laws help domestic violence victims.

Human rights violations in U.K. jail.

Women and the Minimum Wage.

Women don’t ask for nasty voyeurism.


On Gendered Language.

On the word “transition”.

Perhaps Silverton is Not Completely Accepting of their Trans Mayor.

Banning Cesar Chavez: Whites “Sanitizing” US History Again.

Same crap, different day.

Marketing Asian Women to Anti-feminist Men.

When the Outside Looks Like the Inside.

Monday Blogaround

30 06 2009

There’s a lot we’ve missed lately… so here are some good reads to catch up with:

As Pride Month comes to an end, and as we reflect on Stonewall: Obama Commemorates Stonewall, Inequality in the Marriage Equality Movement and The Real Stonewall Legacy.

Eve Ensler’s op-ed in The Washington Post: A Broken UN Promise in Congo.

Gender is a social construction, so two feminist parents in Sweden are raising their child gender non-specific.

Triggering and heartbreaking – Violence against the trans community is still very persistent and pervasive: Transgender Woman Brutally Beaten in Queens Bias Attack – TLDEF Demands Full Investigation Into Hate Crime.

Recession Depression: Having a good work/life balance is ideal, but how realistically achievable is it especially in economic hard times?

This caught my eye because even though I am not a big Chipotle fan, many of my friends rave about it: Chipotle Injustice – Chipotle is the nation’s most rapidly growing fast food chain, but how socially responsible is it?

Prison rape is a widespread phenomenon and the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission just released a new report with suggestions and guidelines on how to end prison rape.

Reflections on Privilege, Guilt and Identity.

Some body to love – you are more than just your body.

Racist Thinking at the Supreme Court – Again.

The connection between reproductive rights and sexual violence – “He Thought a Baby Would Keep Me Forever”: When Partner Abuse Isn’t a Bruise but a Pregnant Belly.

Society is obsessed with parenting and children – Vanessa Richmond at Alternet explores this further.

Wednesday Blogaround

24 06 2009

Keeping up with blogging during the summer isn’t an easy task. Here are some great reads on things we’ve missed:

Transgender federal employees will soon be protected from discrimination in the work place.

A piece from The New Yorker about the incompatibility of medicine and the “free market”.

The economic recession affects everyone, so “Don’t call it a ‘he-cession’“.

We can affirm the value of fathers but still support government structures that support diverse family arrangements of all kinds.

The latest on Chris Brown and Rihanna.

Trigger warning – physical assault and violence in the name of casting out the so-called homosexual demons.

Facebook and how it upholds and perpetuates the gender binary.

A very long overdue apology – Senate Apologizes for Slavery.

Check out the first part of a MoJo special on the Hidden Defense Budget.

If you ask the NYTimes, sex selection is culturally Asian.

WTF?!  No!!!  Harvard’s Office of Sexual Assault is closing for July.

Can we ever say a woman can’t choose?

Friday Blogaround

19 06 2009

Sorry posting has been slow lately, but here are some interesting reads.  Enjoy and happy Friday everyone!

Happy Juneteenth, Peeps!

Trigger Warning: A young trans woman in New York was tortured to death yesterday, via A.E. Brain

New College Alcohol/Assault Stats – What seems to be still missing from the discussion is prevention

This is depressing – UK Officials Assigned to Fight Rape Actually Promote Rape Myths

Racism Review has a round-up of links to stories on Race, Racism and White Supremacy

Fat and Fashionable AND happy? Impossible!

How the Recession Impacts Women: More Women Forced to Reduce Maternity Leave Under Stress of the Economy

Two great pieces from MoJo: Bush Officials Cash In as More Americans Lose Out and Obamanomics: The Good, the Bad, the Weak

I’ve heard a lot about the new movie, The Hangover and how it’s super hilarious and a must-see.  Here’s a more critical review of it, More White Men Behaving Badly: A “Brain-on” Look at The Hangover

Safer Sex PSAs Conflate the Penis with a Firearm (NSFW)

Wealth-Care Reform: Fixing our health-care system will make us more economically secure.  It won’t make us much healthier.

Jessica Valenti on The Virginity Movement, Rebranded

Depression in Action, or Why I’m Still a Radical Feminist Despite it All

A Study in Ableism

Advocate’s (And the Gayosphere’s) Jacked Up Reporting on Black Transwoman’s Marriages

Happy Memorial Day weekend!

23 05 2009

It’s unofficially the start of summer.  Here are some good weekend reads for you to peruse as you enjoy the nice, sunny, warm weather (hopefully it won’t get too hot or humid).

The High Cost of Poverty: Why the Poor Pay More – This may not come as a surprise to many of us, but this is an excellent “primer on the economics of poverty”.

You have to be rich to be poor.

That’s what some people who have never lived below the poverty line don’t understand.

Put it another way: The poorer you are, the more things cost. More in money, time, hassle, exhaustion, menace. This is a fact of life that reality television and magazines don’t often explain.

Finish reading.

What has recognizing your male privilege done for you lately? – Twisty has a great post up about male privilege, which is infused with her usual wit, charm and general badass-ness.

It really clogs the Twisty lobes to consider that there are maybe six guys on the whole internet who don’t need need to be told, among about 894 other obvious things, that

a) the entirety of feminism is not invalidated by the fact of that they personally love their mom, and
b) freely expressing their fancy-free male privilege on heartwarming nature crap blogs is experienced by the heartwarming nature crappists as aggression.

Read the rest.

Why We Must Investigate Torture – Torture is not a debatable issue.  It is just plain wrong and should never happen.  PortlyDyke invites us to join her in a letter writing campaign to congressional reps, President Obama, and the UN.

So, this post is my first step. It presents the reasons I believe that we absolutely must investigate, and an invitation — because I want you to join me (action item at the bottom of the post).

As a citizen of the United States, I consider myself a “cell” in the body of this nation – a nation that I believe is very ill at this point. If I am to help my nation heal, I have to become an active agent in its healing. So, here are (some of) the reasons I believe that we must investigate Torture:

Reason #1 – Because There is a Festering Wound in My Nation’s Heart
Reason #2 – Because There Is an Enormous Log In My Nation’s Eye

Reason #3: Because We Said We Would, and then We Said We Would Again

Read the full piece.

What the Guantanamo Speech Means for Civil Liberties – an interview with Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU, on his thoughts on the implications of Obama’s recent speech on Guantanamo.

Since Obama’s inauguration, the American Civil Liberties Union has been one of his most consistent critics. At every turn, the ACLU has challenged policies that it see as circumventing Constitutional protections. Anthony Romero, the organization’s executive director, shares his thoughts regarding the Barack Obama’s speech on Guantanamo yesterday. He also discusses the president’s proposed changes to national security policy, the difference between the current and prior administration, and the ACLU’s plan to challenge some of Obama’s stated policies through the court system.

Read the interview here.

$1 Trillion and Counting… – $1 Trillion is the monetary cost that we’ve spent on fighting wars since September 11th 2001.  This in itself is staggering, but factor in the human costs as well which are more difficult to measure.  Our national budget is a reflection of our nation’s morals and values.  What does it mean that we spend so much money on war?

On September 12, 2001, could we have predicted spending $1 trillion for wars allegedly fought in response to the tragedy gripping our nation? Could we have imagined the human as well as economic costs?

Today, US forces are profoundly engaged in both Iraq and Afghanistan, with approximately 200,000 troops in the two countries and more than 21,000 additional troops requested for Afghanistan by the Obama administration. US military and Afghan and Iraqi civilian casualties increase daily as the economic cost-of-war counters roll on.

Continue reading.

MRA, Feministing, and Racism – Feminism is still not fully as intersectional as it can/should be, and therefore angers and alienates many women of color.  Renee’s gotten a lot of shit thrown at her for calling out white privilege (very un-ally behavior) which is incredibly incensing, but I do applaud her for handling it gracefully and responding with such eloquence.

I’ll bet the above is a bit of a shocking title.  Here’s the background knowledge that you need to be aware of.  May 19th was Malcolm X’s birthday.   He is a man that I have a great deal of respect for.  I had intended to write a post regarding his work with the women of the Nation of Islam, however time got the better of me and I simply posted his eulogy which was written by Ossie Davis.  That day I roamed around the blogsphere and noted that he was not mentioned on either Feministing, Feministe, or Shakesville.   In my opinion this is not a small oversight.

The next day Samhita put up a post a feministing wishing Malcolm a happy belated birthday and as I read it, I became angry.  My issue is not that the post was poorly written but that it fell once again to Samhita to cover an issue that is important to POC and that the post was a day late.  The following is the initial comment I left on the thread.

Get the rest of the story here.

Damn Denny’s And “Errbody” Else, Let My People Pee – Monica writes about Denny’s and a racist policy they had in the 80s where managers were ordered to not permit “too many Blacks to congregate in their restaurants”.  This was so entrenched that in 1993, a federal court ordered Denny’s to end their discrimination against black customers.  She links this to the recent case involving Brianna Freeman:

I’m taking this trip down Moni Memory Lane again because those images of past discrimination were on my mind when I heard about the Maine Human Rights Commission case involving Brianna Freeman.

The commission ruled on Monday that an Augusta, ME Denny’s franchisee store was guilty of discrimination when it barred Ms. Freeman, a regular customer of the restaurant, from using the women’s restroom until she had surgery.

Okay, I and the rest of the transgender community are beyond sick and tired of this bull feces ‘bathroom predator’ meme the Forces of Intolerance and other ignorant folks who hate on transpeople are pimping these days because they have no logic based argument they can us to deny transgender people their civil rights.

Finish reading.

Missing the Point Awards, Manchester Poster Edition – An advertising poster (completely PG) featuring a little girl pretending to breastfeed a doll is criticized as “disgusting”, “highly offensive”, “the sort of picture that a paedophile would show a kid”, “wrong”, “depraved”, “inappropriate and  unnecessary”… WTF?!

Councillor Jean Ashworth, who is a healthcare assistant at Rochdale Infirmary, says she is offended by the image.

She said: “Promoting breastfeeding is fine, but this is just offensive. “I wonder where it will stop, if these are the lengths the Trust will go to. I am in no way against mums who want to breast feed at all, but I think to see such a disturbing image of a child like that is inappropriate and unnecessary.”

What are the other idiotic comments people have made?

Once Again: Rape is NOT Your Personal Metaphor – I’ve blogged about this time after time after time, but there are those out there who still don’t get it and constantly misuse the word “rape” and throw it around all the time.  Here’s Cara’s take on why it’s not an acceptable or appropriate analogy to compare rape to developing a television show:

So remember how we were having a conversation fairly recently about assholes who throw around the word “rape” to mean anything but? Well I’m sure you’ll all be shocked to know that not every person on the internet read that discussion about how horrifying, triggering, pointless, blatantly misogynistic and fucking stupid such a use of the word is.

Including, even more shockingly, the fine folks at that upstanding blog known as Gawker (which, I believe I was recently reading, doesn’t currently have a single regular female writer on staff?). Because this is how CajunBoy decided to describe the awful, no good, very bad experience of . . . wait for it . . . developing a TV show! (Below the fold, and again, Huge Trigger Warning)

Happy reading!

Economic downturn affects abortion seekers and abortion providers

20 05 2009

planned parenthood

According to an article in today’s LA Times, the Planned Parenthood in Los Angeles County has 15% more patient cases now than they had at this time last year.  And ACCESS in Oakland, CA, an organization that helps low income women with reproductive health care, 72% of calls received are from women contemplating abortions which is up from 60% last year.

Executive director Destiny Lopez says that most of the women calling already have families but feel like they don’t have the financial capacity to have another child, contrary to popular stereotypes of childless women getting abortions.

The article points out the unsurprising fact that women are factoring in the economy and their current financial circumstances when deciding whether or not to have children.  Women are realizing that they cannot afford to raise a child (or in many instances, another child) during these economic times, whereas under better economic circumstances they would’ve just had continued their pregnancies and had children.

However, the economic downturn has also made it difficult for women seeking abortions to get those abortions.  For low income women who are already struggling, paying for an abortion can be very difficult.  The cost of an abortion  ranges from around $450 for a first-trimester abortion to $1,200 for a second trimester abortion.  Not all insurance companies are willing to cover the cost of an abortion and enrolling in Medi-Cal, California’s health care system for the poor, can often be a slow and tedious process.  In some  cases, women who wanted to have first-trimester abortions and scrambled to put enough money together found out that by the time their insurance came through, it was too late for a first-trimester abortion and they were uncomfortable with having a second-trimester abortion (nor did they have enough money to cover one).

Abortion clinics are also suffering due to the economic recession.  Some clinics have had to shut down.  For example, the Women’s Choice Clinic, one of Oakland’s oldest feminist abortion clinics, closed not too long ago because it couldn’t pay all of its bills.  This increases the burden of abortion clinics, like Planned Parenthood, that are still open and have more women seeking abortions.

A more optimistic point of the article is the fact that more women today are conscientious of using birth control than they were a year ago:

A recent Gallup Organization survey conducted for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reported that nearly one in 10 married woman indicated that the economy was a factor in their decision to postpone a planned pregnancy. That same survey found that one in five women is more concerned about having an unintended pregnancy than a year ago and about one in five women is more conscientious about using birth control.

You need to know the Story of Stuff – It matters!

10 05 2009

the story of stuff

After September 11th, then President Bush told us all to go shopping.  Because America is a nation of consumers, and consumerism is the prime constituent or definition of our identities.  But it’s no secret that consumerism is evil (and that it’s not the best way to deal with a traumatic terrorist attack).  Everyone should watch The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard.  It is a short and excellent video that breaks down American consumerism and sums up why “stuff” and buying stuff is such a major problem in this country.

Leonard starts with extraction – using the planet’s resources for all of our needs and wants.  What’s the problem here?  Well, we are using too much stuff, especially more stuff than we need, and this creates inequities in the world where people are deprived of basic necessities while we are basking in luxuries of stuff we don’t actually need.  Not only are we using a ton of stuff that we don’t need, but we are also selfishly hogging up that stuff and not sharing with other people or countries that need them.  The way we get all the stuff that we don’t need is harmful to the planet, and we’re extracting stuff at a faster rate than the stuff can replenish itself.  This is not sustainable.

The second part of The Story of Stuff is about productionSo many problems here.  Most production occurs in factories with toxic chemicals and severely underpaid and mistreated workers.  First of all, toxic chemicals = toxic toys for children, toxic food for everyone, health problems for workers, environmental problems, etc.  Secondly, since the US realizes that toxic chemicals and poor working conditions create serious health, environmental and ethical issues, we outsource this to other countries.  Aren’t we brilliant?!  We bring our toxic chemicals and wastes over to other countries where we can exploit people and their resources.

Next is distribution – this is about actually getting our stuff.  The point of this is to transport and to sell stuff as quickly and cheaply as possible.  The price tags on the stuff we buy do not accurately represent the cost and human effort that went into making them (this is called externalizing the costs).  So while prices may seem dirt cheap (like a $4.99 radio that she mentions in the video) and like great bargains, they actually are not.  The expenses (our environment, our children, ourselves) of having such cheap prices (Walmart) are high.

Read the rest of this entry »

Follow-up on “We aren’t exactly closing the gap …”

8 05 2009

About a month ago, I blogged about an article in the Tufts Daily about the employment gap, and how during the recession, women appear to be closing the gendered employment gap that we’ve seen for years.  In my blog post, I commented on how men disproportionately losing jobs during the recession was not actually improving gender equality in employment.  I expressed my concern about how the Daily was reporting this narrowing of the gap in a positive light, without problematizing specific issues, such as the fact that women tend to work more lower-paying jobs in lower-paying industries than men do, and that more women work part-time than men (and part-time and full-time are extremely different in more ways than just hours worked).  I finally agreed with one person who was quoted in the article, who explained that simply because the numbers are changing and appear to show equality, women are still treated much differently (in a negative way) than men are in the hiring process.

Why am I repeating myself?  Well, I found this article today through Shakesville (available through a link on the right side of our blog).  In it, the author explains more fully the gendered aspects of the recession, going into great detail about the ways in which this recession is claimed to hurt men more than women.  Some highlights from the article:

So just to be clear: we’re neatly bypassing the facts that more men than women work, that women’s work tends to be part-time, and that it also tends to be lower-paid, and surmising that women are coming out on top in this economic crisis because fewer of them are losing their part-time/occasional, low-paying jobs.

We seem to assume that women’s response to economic hardship (moving or changing to find work) has little or no cost, whereas men’s reality (lost employment) does. There is a cost associated with this perceived flexibility, that may involve education, transportation, shifts in family care arrangements, or increased care burdens within the home.

And if the response is to invest in those industries with the highest losses, where men are more heavily concentrated, then at best, the post-recession economy will position men and women exactly where they were before: with women earning much less. What is required is not just worker protection laws to eliminate discrimination and create equal employment in those sectors without regard to sex, but also more jobs in women-dominated sectors, with higher, living wages and increased benefits.

This is an excellent blog post, with quotations and information that wasn’t present in the Daily’s article.  I highly recommend it.

Obama’s been in office for 100 days now!

29 04 2009

Obama’s been in office for 100 days now and different critics have been weighing in on how he’s been doing.  Here are some highlights of his first 100 days:

– On January 23rd, Obama overturned the global gag rule, “which prevented US foreign aid recipients from counseling women about the availability of safe abortion services and from advocating for the liberalization of abortion laws.”

– On January 29th, Obama signed The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was also the first bill he signed into law.  The Act restores a woman’s ability to bring pay discrimination complaints up to 180 days after each discriminatory paycheck and to sue for pay discrimination.

– On February 4th, Obama  expanded government health insurance to provide critical support to low-income children and families and extending coverage to 11 million children.

– On March 6th, Obama appointed Melanne Verveer to fill the newly created position of the ambassador at large for global women’s issues.

– On March 11th, Obama established the White House Council on Women and Girls.

– On March 19th, Obama pledged to sign the UN Declaration to decriminalize homosexuality.

For more, check out the Huffington Post’s LGBT Report Card for Obama’s first 100 days, and RHReality Check’s evaluation.

Fox has gotta go

10 04 2009

Fox never fails to outrage. Their next genius idea:

Fox has ordered a “one-hour unscripted series that turns real-life company layoffs into a reality contest.” The show — titled “Someone’s Gotta Go” — will give company staffers access to internal information (budgets, HR files, and salaries) and the power to determine which of the company’s staffers is fired. The Hollywood Reporter notes, “It’s the anti-‘Apprentice’: Instead of contestants vying for a dream job, they’re fighting to keep the lousy one they already have.”

Only Fox would do this… Perfect timing for a show like this too, during a recession. Way to make people feel better about their lives in these rough economic times. Releasing private information about company staffers for commidification and public consumption? It is disgusting that they are commodifying and trying to profit off people’s real-life nightmares. It is unethical to use people’s unfortunate as entertainment and doing so belittles their experiences. Well, this is Fox’s way of wishing everyone a happy recession!

We aren’t exactly closing the gap …

3 04 2009

The April 2nd edition of the Tufts Daily included an article entitled “Women closing in on employment gap.”  When I first saw the article title, I frowned; I was aware of how the recession was affecting unemployment rates for men and women, but I hadn’t heard that the employment gap itself was actually closing.  After reading further, I was pleased to note that the article did address other issues relating to sex and employment:

According to the economic consulting firm IHS Global Insight, employers in the health care and education sectors added 536,000 jobs in 2008. These are sectors where women are more likely to work. Simultaneously, manufacturing and construction — sectors that are overwhelmingly male — showed a sharp decline in job opportunities last year.

Also significant is the number of women working part-time: Part-time jobs are much more secure in a job market where cutting hours is a popular strategy. Because many more women work part-time than men do, their jobs appear much more secure.

This information is accurate, but what I find troublesome is the failure to problematize this information.  Yes, there are significant numbers of women working in health care and in education.  But many women working in health care are nurses and social workers, and many women working in education teach lower levels of education (pre-school, elementary school, and middle school).  In addition, as you look higher up on the job ladder, you find more and more men; there are significant numbers of male principals and superintendents, as well as male chiefs of medicine and board members.  Women in medicine also tend to work in family practice, pediatrics, or gynecology, some of the lower paying medical specialties.

In addition, it isn’t appropriate to compare part-time jobs to full-time jobs; many part-time jobs don’t have the same benefits that full-time jobs do, and even some that do only give them to employees who meet specific requirements.

We are seeing the employment gap narrow in a very specific way right now, and not in a way that is truly beneficial for people, or a way that reflects a change in social attitudes or norms.  Women aren’t being hired more because employers are learning to shed biases; women are being fired less because they work part-time more and tend to work in fields that are less drastically affected by the recession.  These jobs still pay less than men’s jobs; the wage gap is alive and well.

Therefore, instead of seeing an actual improvement in the economy and the way that women are treated in the workforce, we’re seeing families that have to rely on mothers and wives to be wage-earners even though their jobs tend to pay less and have fewer benefits.

In the final paragraph of the article, the Daily says:

These statistics have instilled optimism in some women’s rights activists hoping for employment equality. Freshman Katie Kopel explained that such excitement should be met with reservations. “[The closing gender gap] should not be misinterpreted as a sign that women are treated equally in the hiring process or the workplace.”

I’m with Miss Kopel; this isn’t what many of us were looking for when we wanted the employment gap gone.  Kopel has very concisely summarized two huge issues facing women and employment today: many women aren’t hired because of biases against women, and many women are harassed and treated unfairly in the workplace itself.  In addition, as I said earlier, the wage gap is still approximately 71 cents to the dollar on average for women.

While I am very happy that the Daily reported on this issue, and that they recognized many of the reasons why unemployment for men and women is so different during this recession, I am frustrated with the amount of positive spin that the article gives this issue.  Yes, I want to see men and women hired equally, paid equally, and treated equally, but to do that, we need to see a shift in societal attitudes.  I wonder what will happen when the recession ends; will it be like the end of WWII, when the men came back and demanded their jobs?

As one last thought, consider the meaning of “unemployed.”  Are stay-at-home parents employed or not?  What does that really mean in terms of women’s employment nationwide?

What does public transportation have to do with feminism?

26 03 2009

New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has  yet another brilliant idea – to hike up public transportation fares and simultaneously cut back on service.  Effective May 31st, subway and bus fares will cost $2.50 instead of $2.

Service cuts mean that 35 bus routes and two subway lines (the W and the Z trains) are going to be completely eliminated.  Many bus routes are going to be canceled on the weekends, and trains will run less frequently during off-peak hours.  It also means that around 1,100 transit employees are going to be laid off.

As a New Yorker who is a frequent user of public transportation, this pisses me off A LOT.  Public transportation also is, in many ways, a feminist issue.  Why, you ask?

Well, women tend to use public transportation more than men do and therefore having affordable, efficient and quality public transportation is important because it enables more women to have access to mobility in and around the public sphere, which is typically defined as a male domain.  After all, we womenfolk are supposed to just hang out in the household while men go out and make the big bucks.

Most people (men and women) work outside the home now and they don’t all work within walking distance from where they live.  Taking the train or the bus is often the cheapest and quickest way for them to travel around.  For working moms living in cities who rush from home to work to their child’s school to pick them up and back home, public transportation is usually the most convenient way for them to travel.  Not only does it avoid local traffic (driving around New York City is always a nightmare), but it is cheap and fairly quick too.  After the fare hikes and service cuts (this is not the first time the MTA has done it, but these are some drastic cut backs), this will no longer be the case.

Moreover in some families where paying for school bus service is just not practical, children take public transportation to school.  All of these service cuts and fare increases will be harder on children and their families.  Like many other New Yorkers, I’ve valued the accessibility, flexibility and reliability of our public transportation to be on time and quick to get me where I need to be.  The impending changes are going to hurt the reputation of NYC’s public transportation system.

It’s been said before but it’s worth reiterating that in times of economic crises and when companies lay people off, those hardest hit tend to be lower-class women and children of color.  Therefore, all of the MTA employees who will get laid off as well as the people who have already been laid off yet need to commute via public transportation to try to scout out employment wherever/whenever they can, will suffer from the upcoming changes.

Also, if public transportation is going to be reduced, this may lead to an increase in people driving to get in and around the city.  This raises an environmental issue as well – one of the main benefits of having a cheap and reliable public transportation system is to reduce the amount of cars driving out there, therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  However if public transportation begins to fail people who utilize it, they may resort to less green methods of transportation, like driving.

Here again we are confronted with the issue of access: Who has a car and can afford to drive in and around New York City?  Not everyone has that liberty.  So for those of us who don’t drive, don’t have cars, don’t have friends who have cars, don’t have the money to take a cab everywhere, mass transit (which is supposed to be a fast and easy service) will no longer be quite as reliable as it once was.

“How not to fall victim to the populist horde calling for their heads”

20 03 2009

A friend of mine drew my attention to an AIG corporate security memo leaked to Gawker that lists tips for employees on “how not to fall victim to the populist horde calling for their heads.”

Some of the things they suggest sound much like victim-blaming sexist “advice” that women are told to follow in order to prevent themselves from being raped:

– “Be aware of individuals who appear out of place or spending an inordinate amount of time near an AIG facility and report these sightings immediately to building security.” (Sounds akin to: women, beware of men who seem sketchy and are just loitering on corners or on the street because they may be rapists.)

– “At night,when possible, travel in pairs and always park in well lit areas.” (Women, don’t walk alone otherwise you may get raped. And don’t walk in dark alleyways, you may get raped there too.)

– “Question individuals that you do not recognize and appear to be out of place; if you do not feel comfortable doing so, notify building security or your local authorities in order to do so.” (Women, again, beware of sketchy men.)

– “Avoid propping doors and be aware of those attempting to ‘Piggy Back’ into AIG workspace.” (Women, always remain on constant alert and make sure you don’t accidentally let in a rapist.)

Imagine the fear that AIG employees must’ve felt when they received this memo. Constant vigilance.

What the new Council on Women and Girls can do to be radical and transformative

17 03 2009

The American Prospect has an article up by Courtney Martin, one of the feministing bloggers, called A Radical Vision for the Council on Women and Girls. She mentions several important things worth mentioning.

The council was created to address and support bourgeoisie women and their interests/issues, like afforded quality child care, family leave, and flexible work schedules. Meanwhile, women not pertaining to the upper-middle and upper classes and their needs/interests tend to get ignored. What about women who struggle daily living paycheck to paycheck?

As Martin writes:

We need to shift our priorities, and the White House Council on Women and Children can be the catalyst. There are some long-neglected issues that I’d like to challenge the council to take on, namely domestic sex trafficking, the HIV/AIDS infection rate among black women, and a federally funded, comprehensive sexual-education policy.

This is absolutely true – yes, family leave, affordable quality child care, and workplace flexibility are important issues. But gender/sexuality based violence, comprehensive sex ed, human trafficking/sexual slavery, affordable quality housing, HIV/AIDS and other STDs, should also rise to the forefront. These are legitimate issues that often get overlooked. It’s time to stop otherizing certain issues and thinking that they don’t happen as frequently in America, like child prostitution, violence against the LGBTQ community, etc.

She concludes:

What will make this proposed White House Council truly radical is if it doesn’t just serve the self-interest of the women with a seat at the table but the young women and struggling mothers who have been given the scraps of governmental goodwill for far too long. With these women as a top priority rather than an afterthought, this council could demonstrate effective cooperation among departments and agencies, acknowledge that you can’t look at gender without also considering class and race (and vice versa), and connect with grass-roots groups doing work on the ground, within their own communities. In short, it could be that transformative.

What could make the council truly groundbreaking and transformative is if it addresses the entire citizenship base, not just those at the upper echelons of society, if it acknowledges the existence, voices, concerns, and demands of disenfranchised women who are lower class or of color, if it acknowledges these women and the struggles they face in their daily lives and tries to work on ways to help them or improve their situations. Helping out those who are at the lower rungs of society will ultimately lift society up as a whole.