Tag Archives: women’s rights

Why Haven’t We Heard About This?

Back in March, the British newspaper The Spectator ran a troubling story implicating free speech, feminism, Islam…all subjects that typically command a lot of attention in the U.S. 

Margot Wallström, the Swedish foreign minister, denounced the subjugation of women in Saudi Arabia. As the theocratic kingdom prevents women from travelling, conducting official business or marrying without the permission of male guardians, and as girls can be forced into child marriages where they are effectively raped by old men, she was telling no more than the truth.

Wallström went on to condemn the Saudi courts for ordering that Raif Badawi receive ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a website that championed secularism and free speech. These were ‘mediaeval methods’, she said, and a ‘cruel attempt to silence modern forms of expression’.

She also opined that Swedish cooperation with the Saudi military was unethical.

Following her remarks, Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador to Sweden. It also stopped issuing visas to Swedish businessmen. The United Arab Emirates joined it. The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, which represents 56 Muslim-majority states, issued a statement accusing Sweden of failing to respect the world’s ‘rich and varied ethical standards,’ and the Gulf Co-operation Council condemned her ‘unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.’

And how did Sweden–a country most of us think of as a bastion of democracy and a defender of free speech–react?

Thirty chief executives signed a letter saying that breaking the arms trade agreement ‘would jeopardise Sweden’s reputation as a trade and co-operation partner’. No less a figure than His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf himself hauled Wallström in at the weekend to tell her that he wanted a compromise. Saudi Arabia has successfully turned criticism of its brutal version of Islam into an attack on all Muslims, regardless of whether they are Wahhabis or not, and Wallström and her colleagues are clearly unnerved by accusations of Islamophobia. The signs are that she will fold under the pressure, particularly when the rest of liberal Europe shows no interest in supporting her.

My question is: why has the American media failed to cover this? Why has social media been silent?

Have I missed an outcry? A public debate over the relative importance of free speech and diplomacy? Or could it be that this effort to silence Wallstrom is different because she’s a woman, complaining about the treatment of women?

Truth in Numbers

Harper’s Magazine has a long-running feature called Harper’s Index, where they provide survey results without commentary. The subject-matter of those surveys varies widely, but they are generally thought-provoking, and these recent numbers provided the usual food for thought:

• Rank of “attire” among the leading reasons “millennials” are unsuccessful in job interviews: 1

• Rank of their posting inappropriate pictures on social media: 2

• Average salary earned by a full-time-employed male college graduate one year after graduation: $42,918

• By a full-time-employed female graduate: $35,296

• Percentage of Canadians who believe in global warming: 98

• Of Americans who do: 70

• Of Republicans: 48

The numbers prompt a number of observations.

To my older grandchildren, I will simply reiterate my warnings about posting those pictures of partying on Facebook. Your friends may think that goofy drunk face is funny, but future employers will not appreciate the humor. Nor will they conclude that you really can use the English language if you persist in sharing incomprehensible “street language” sentiments. Listen to your grandmother–and pull up those pants!

To my friends of the female gender, I know that confirmation of the persistence of the wage gap doesn’t really surprise us, but it should at least give us a wake-up call. After years of work agitating for women’s rights and w0rking for equity and equal pay for equal work, we still have a long way to go. Let’s gird those loins, ladies, and get back to it!

To the fearful ostrich-like, head-in-the-sand science and climate-change deniers, I have nothing to say. They don’t listen to experts and they reject both scientific research and the evidence of their own experience. They aren’t going to listen to me. They aren’t going to accept the reality of climate change until they’re sitting on an oceanside beach in Indiana. Thanks to them, however, the rest of us are going to have to work harder and smarter in order to overcome their resistance and enact policies that will address global climate change and–hopefully–avert accelerating disasters.

Happy holidays.


Deja Vu All Over Again

For reasons only sociologists will understand, Americans have chosen this particular time to revisit issues about the status of women that I thought we’d settled decades ago.

There are a lot of parallels with racism. We elected a black President, but–faced with that stark evidence of progress–the not-inconsiderable numbers of remaining bigots crawled out from under their rocks. So this President “isn’t American” “wasn’t really born here” “is Muslim”  and must be defeated at all costs, even if that means opposing measures that are demonstrably good for the country.

Here in Indiana, gubernatorial candidates have each selected a woman running-mate. At the federal level, our Secretary of State is a woman; when the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives, a woman (gasp!) was Speaker. Everywhere you look, there’s evidence that women really have “come a long way, baby”–a long way from the days I still remember. When I went to law school, women couldn’t even have credit ratings separate from those of their husbands, there were still cultural barriers to women entering the workforce, and young women had few if any role models if they wanted to be anything other than wives and mothers.

Equal pay for equal work? Forget about it!

Family planning? Well, there was the rhythm method and condoms….

What really set women free, what really opened opportunity and set us out on a road to equality was an invention called the Pill. When women had access to reliable contraception, when we could control our reproduction, the world changed.

But just as the election of a black President horrified the throwbacks still clinging to white privilege, women’s steady progress has infuriated the throwbacks clinging to male privilege. (Not that the two categories are mutually exclusive.) There is no other explanation for the eruption of legislation aimed at rolling back the clock. That legislation has attacked women’s rights on multiple fronts (including, unbelievably, equal pay laws), but it is no accident that most of the assault has aimed at our ability to control our reproduction. That ability is the foundation of our equality, and the old men who resent that equality know it.

In this morning’s New York Times, Maureen Dowd takes on the Bishops of her own Catholic Church over their claims that HHS regulations requiring health insurers to provide birth control violates their religious liberty. The column is well worth reading, but her final sentence really sums it up:   “And the lawsuit reminds the rest [of us] that what the bishops portray as an attack on religion by the president is really an attack on women by the bishops.”

Jefferson was right: liberty requires eternal vigilance. Those of us who thought the fight for women’s rights had been won had better go dig out our battle gear.

Be Careful Who You Piss Off

The Huffington Post reports that several officers of the Susan B. Komen Foundation have resigned in the wake of what can only be described as the debacle of that organization’s effort to defund Planned Parenthood.

When the Foundation decided to play abortion politics at the expense of poor women who depend upon Planned Parenthood for their annual breast exams, it set off a reaction of epic proportions–not to mention a level of scrutiny that the organization had formerly escaped. Questions were raised about the outsized executive salaries, the organization’s habit of suing other nonprofits that had the temerity to use the color pink or the term “cure” in their own efforts, and the percentage of overall funding that found its way to actual breast cancer research. According to the Huffington story, fundraising is down, morale is low, and management is in disarray.

There are a number of lessons to be learned from this exercise in self-destruction, but I think the most hopeful sign has little to do with the Komen Foundation and a lot to do with Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood has been the object of unremitting attack by the Right for many years now. Those of us who are older can remember when Planned Parenthood boards drew their members from civic leaders of both political parties; indeed, George H.W. Bush served on the national board until he decided to accept the nomination for Vice-President. The organization was not particularly controversial, because it was understood to be in the business of providing health care and family planning to women who needed those services but lacked the resources to access them.

The abortion wars and the rise of an extremist Right Wing willing to play dirty undermined the formerly widespread recognition of the importance of Planned Parenthood.

Despite the fact that abortion never exceeded 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services, despite the fact that no tax dollars were used for abortion services, and despite the fact that economic pressures made the organization’s provision of women’s health services more critically important than ever, Planned Parenthood’s reputation took a real hit–the result of unremitting attacks and dishonest characterizations.

The response to Komen’s clumsy effort to further de-legitimize Planned Parenthood may have marked a turning point.

When the “abortion wars” were seen as genuinely limited to the question of abortion, most women–even the most pro-choice among us–could recognize and respect the deep moral ambivalence many people feel about the issue. But recent political assaults have torn the mask off of much of the “pro-life” movement, displaying a profoundly anti-woman agenda. It is one thing to oppose abortion; it is quite another to attack women’s right to contraception and reproductive health as a violation of the religious prerogatives of those whose theologies subordinate women.

Women are waking up to the very real threat to our hard-won equal rights. In the process, we are recognizing the attacks on Planned Parenthood for what they really are–attacks on us.

Let’s hope that the people perpetrating those attacks–the Rick Santorum’s and the Eric Miller’s and their ilk–learn what the Komen Foundation has learned: be careful who you piss off. Because–as the saying goes–if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t NOBODY happy.


No Real Post Today

There won’t be a real blog post today–I’m spring cleaning.

Yesterday, my best friend told me that I’m the only person she knows who still does a full-scale, top-to-bottom spring cleaning. Maybe she’s right, but for me it is as close as I get to performing a religious ritual.

Part of it is rooted in religion: spring is the Passover season, and generations of Jewish women have internalized the yearly search for “chometz”–i.e. yeast–during which they scrubbed the premises not only of the forbidden breadcrumbs, but for dirt of any kind.

But for me, the satisfaction I get from ensuring that my closets and drawers are tidy, my baseboards dust-free and my windows washed is in direct contrast to the degree to which I am unable  to control anything else.

I may not be able to stem the recent tide of anti-woman rhetoric. I may not be able to wave a wand and achieve equal civil rights for GLBT folks. I obviously can’t control the public’s tendency to vote for reality-challenged politicians. Hell, I can’t even control my weight.

But dammit, one thing I can control is how clean my closets are!

See you tomorrow.