We talk about health care -- kinda sorta. My mom says I need to smile more, and I wholly agree.
Ross Douthat is the author of a book arguing that marriage-promotion -- even among the very poor and the very young -- should be a major goal of national social policy. He has an aversion to birth control and abortion. He has even written about his own efforts to stay sexually chaste. So it is surprising that Douthat now writes, "Our meritocrats could stand to leaven their careerism with a little more romantic excess."
What's responsible for Douthat's change of heart? Like me, he is currently reading Cristina Nehring's A Vindication of Love: Reclaiming Romance for the Twenty-First Century, which uses the lives of literary greats to argue that foolish love -- passion, sex, and even obsession -- fuels genius and productivity. Nehring believes that today's college-educated professionals have sanitized love through feminism and "companionate marriages," focusing too much on child-rearing and real estate acquisition, and not enough on sex. This line of argument offers Douthat an opportunity to engage in one of his favorite pastimes: attacking the culture of affluent liberals. "The same overclass that was once most invested in erotic experimentation ended up building the sturdiest walls against the passions it unleashed," he clucks.
But make no mistake -- the likely appeal of Nehring's work, for Douthat, lies in its negative assessment of feminism as an anti-romantic killjoy. This is a major flaw in Nehring's book; she treats feminism, as an ideology, as if it ceased to exist in the 1980s during the internecine wars over the acceptability of pornography and heterosexual relationships. In fact, feminism is a dynamic movement that has continued to evolve over the last two decades. Many feminists call themselves "sex-positive." Some sex workers identify as feminist and even strive to create feminism-friendly pornography. Some feminists are anti-marriage altogether. Others advocate open relationships because they are inherently skeptical of sexual monogamy.
Yet Douthat buys, hook, line, and sinker, into Nehring's reductive analysis of feminism as anti-sex. One possible solution to dull marriages, he suggests, is less equity between marriage partners. He's not talking about the kind of sexual power-play that Nehring adores. Rather, he suggests that highly educated men are "ideal soulmates" for less-educated women, who could benefit from the economic stability such men offer as husbands and fathers. The problem is that many highly educated men want to marry women who share their intellectual interests. And what single moms need -- more than a rich husband who may or may not make them and their kids happy -- are social supports such as decent jobs, health care, child care, and schools.
Those topics aren't sexy, though. I get that.
Photo by Susan Etheridge for The New York Times
cross-posted at TAPPED
There is something really fishy about people who seem unable to talk about abortion without also talking about race. First, there's the Mike Huckabee/Sam Brownback version of the disease: Folks who compare abortion to the Holocaust and slavery. The implication is clear: The lives of fully sentient human beings living outside the womb, those who were murdered in the Holocaust or enslaved and raped during slavery, have the same value as a fetus. Respectful!
Now the New York Times reports that on the day Roe v. Wade was decided, President Nixon expressed -- on tape, of course -- ambivalence. In some situations, abortion "breaks the family," he said. But when it came to interracial couples, Nixon fully supported abortion -- six years after the Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v. Virginia. "There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white,” he said, adding that rape was also such a situation.
Well. Being racist is about the worst reason ever to be pro-choice. And about the worst reason ever to be anti-choice. Just saying.
cross-posted at TAPPED
Amid the excitement over yesterday's Supreme Court ruling upholding key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, another decision was lost in the shuffle: In Forest Grove School District v. T.A., the Court reaffirmed that local school districts must reimburse the parents of special education students for private school costs. The case concerned a high school student, "T.A.," who, after years of public schooling, was placed in a $5,200 a month boarding school, and thereafter diagnosed with a number of learning disabilities. T.A.'s home school district, in Oregon, is now on the line for those fees.
Many education reformers will be disgruntled with this decision: In D.C., for example, gadfly schools superintendent Michelle Rhee has frequently cited special education costs as a major road block to her planned overhaul of the public schools, which includes a merit pay proposal that would allow teachers to earn as much as $130,000 a year. As the New York Times reports, about 90,000 American special-ed students are enrolled in private school, most of them there via a referral from a public school that is footing the bill. Last year New York City paid $89 million in private school special-ed tuition. The city had filed an amicus brief in support of Forest Grove.
In the decision -- in which only Justices David Souter, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas dissented -- the Court actually expanded the situations under which public schools are responsible for these costs, saying that student tuition must be provided even if the child was never classified as "special ed" by the public district itself.
Diagnoses of autism-spectrum disorders and ADHD are increasing faster than many schools can deal with them, so parents of special-ed students will undoubtedly celebrate this decision. But that won't quiet debates over whether such large revenue streams should be directed toward educating just a few students outside of the public system -- especially amid state budget crises, when so many public schools are in dire need of financial support.
cross-posted at TAPPED
Photo from Tehran by Farhad Rajabali, via Flickr
The photos coming out of Tehran demonstrate, movingly and beautifully, that women are on the front lines of the protests taking place there, veils and all. The images reminded me of President Obama's focus on the hijab during his June 4 Middle East policy speech from Cairo. Obama chose the issue because it was one on which he could forge an alliance with moderate and conservative Islamists at the expense of our traditional allies in Western Europe. "I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal," he said.
Yet the photos show, quite clearly, that women are chafing against the limitations of the veil. Look how far back they push the scarves; under an "equal" system, is there any doubt these women would be ripping the veils from their heads? That's not to deny that many women do wear the hijab gladly, even in Iran. But by hailing the supposed "choice" involved, we provide cover for authoritarian regimes, like Iran's, that really don't want to provide women with any choice at all in the matter. If anything, the focus on the hijab has often served as a distraction from the underlying oppression the veil represents. As Iranian sociologist Fatemeh Sadeghi wrote in a widely circulated 2008 essay, “Why We Say No to Forced Hijab,” the veil has "nothing to do with morality and religion. It is all about power."
And the fact is that women have very little power under Iranian law. They cannot run for president. If they ask for a divorce, they are highly unlikely to win any subsequent custody battle. Polygamy is legal and was even encouraged by the Ahmadinejad regime as an antidote to female unemployment! Only 13 percent of women participate in the paid work force, compared to over 25 percent in Turkey and over 38 percent in Indonesia. With the permission of a court, fathers can even arrange marriages for daughters under age 13. And in the past year, feminist movement leaders have been arrested and jailed by the regime.
Neo-conservatives have often used women's rights as a justification for ill-conceived U.S. military interventions abroad. Yet in Iran this week, we are getting a look at what a real, homegrown feminist movement looks like. American policy-makers from both the left and right should be paying attention. We owe these women support and admiration -- not condescension.
cross-posted at TAPPED
Sam Brownback with a young supporter at the 2007 CPAC conference in D.C. Photo via Flickr user VictoryNH.
On the heels of Dr. George Tiller's May 31 murder outside his Wichita church, the state of Kansas has, once again, become the nation's foremost battleground over reproductive rights. In recent years Kansas tilted left, in large part due to the leadership of former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a pro-choice moderate. But now, retiring Sen. Sam Brownback -- a conservative Catholic and national spokesman for the anti-abortion rights movement -- has a clear path to the GOP gubernatorial nomination, and is considered the favorite over any potential Democratic nominee.
If elected, Brownback will have an enthusiastic, Republican state legislature to work with on rolling back reproductive rights. It's worth remembering that Sebelius' HHS secretary nomination was almost derailed by that body, which forced her to deal with a series of divisive abortion-related bills during her Senate confirmation hearings. Brownback would certainly unleash those forces, moving forward on legislation that would require doctors performing late-term abortions to submit, in writing, exactly what medical risks "justify" the procedure. In April, in one of her last acts as governor, Sebelius vetoed that bill, which also would have allowed the husbands and parents of patients to sue abortion providers if they suspected the pregnant woman's health wasn't really at risk. The bill was intended to intimidate Dr. Tiller and his brethren out of business, and would stymie the work of Dr. Leroy Carhart, the physician who has promised to begin offering late-term abortions in Kansas in Tiller's stead.
Just to reiterate how radical Sam Brownback is on abortion: He regularly compares abortion to slavery and Jim Crow, and believes the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause applies to fetuses. He opposes abortion rights even in cases of rape and incest, or when the pregnant woman's health is at risk. While campaigning in the GOP presidential primary in 2007, Brownback chose abortion as "the most pressing moral issue in the U.S. today." He also said the repeal of Roe v. Wade would be "a glorious day of human liberty and freedom."
cross-posted at TAPPED
The idea that this recession represents a feminist watershed is, sadly, bunk. While it's true that 49 percent of the work force is female and that men are getting laid off at a faster rate than women, occupational segregation means that women are still more likely to be employed in jobs with irregular hours, no benefits, and without union representation. Sixty percent of children living in poverty are supported by single moms, often young women who have very few options for stable employment with middle-class wages.
All that said, there is some truth to the ubiquitous commentary about the recession shifting assumptions on gender, work, and domesticity -- at least among the college educated. Consider this: Between 1995 and 2005, the number of self-employed Americans increased by 27 percent, to 9 million. As Emily Bazelon writes in Sunday's Times Magazine, many of those workers were creative class freelancers, drawn to the Fast Company mantra, as articulated in that dot-com bible in 1997: "The main chance is becoming a free agent in an economy of free agents. ... You create a message and a strategy to promote the brand called You.”
Unsurprisingly, this lifestyle -- which embraced risk, instability, and even narcissism -- was more appealing (and more accessible) to men than to women. Only about a third of all self-employed workers in America are female. And because the recession is hitting freelancers especially hard, some couples are finding that dad -- once proudly self-employed and free-spirited -- is now contributing less than mom to the family's coffers, and is thus due for some serious diaper-changing or floor-scrubbing duty.
One such dad, Aaron Traister, has written a refreshingly honest essay for Salon. For starters, Traister admits that the reason he stays home with his son is not just because he's an awesome father, but also because he is, simply stated, less professionally successful than his wife. "I've always been a flake," he admits. "Whether it's my career or school or creative pursuits, I never seem to follow through, and I have a terrible habit of believing that I am smarter than the people I work for and with. I'm a flake and a schmuck."
But after initial successes in preparing dinners and taking his son on nature walks, Traister finds that his sense of masculinity is, in fact, deeply threatened by stay-at-home parenting. He stops cooking. He starts acting obnoxious to his wife and bragging at dinner parties about how he used to be "butch," working as a bouncer and in a prison. Of course, since this is a personal essay, Traister reaches the point of redemption. While shoveling snow with his son, he realizes that being a man has more to do with testosterone and imparting good values to his children than with having a traditional career. And I think Traister settles upon a really key issue for feminism: that so many men's notions of masculinity have failed to catch up with reality. He writes:
As many of us (for whatever reason) find ourselves in a fiduciary timeout, we should not only think about how to repower the American worker but how to reimagine the American man. The moment our mothers entered the workforce and shattered expectations, the rules about gender roles in this country changed completely, even if our perceptions didn't. Trying to live like our grandfathers is no longer an option.
cross-posted at TAPPED