I think maybe you just weren’t paying good enough attention

August 31, 2008

Ms. Hannah Seligson recently wrote an article in the Times titled Girl Power at School, but Not at the Office where she notes that she grew up in “what many have called a post-feminist culture” and that she didn’t really experience institutional gender bias.

I’m sorry, but you must be fucking kidding me. Is she serious? Or does she just mean that she didn’t really pay enough attention? Or didn’t care? Or did she live on a “men and women and girls and boys are treated equally” Utopian city in the U.S. that we have not yet heard of where boys and girls are treated equally, women and girls are not raped and abused and there is no threat of such abuse, where girls don’t fret about their bodies and are not anorexic, where there are not sexist ads or commercials and people who treat women like objects instead of people, where women can be Catholic priests and are treated equally as ministers of all faiths, where the women are paid penny for penny the same as the men, where little girls are encouraged the same way in school as little boys (there must have been a pee-wee football league for girls as well as boys) and where there are not regular sexist jokes made? I would love to visit this town.

But OMG, once she graduated college (her college was apparently as equally as non-sexist as where she grew up) and got a job, this is what she found when she interviewed other “girls” like herself who had a hard time adjusting to work:

Every workplace is different, but certain patterns began to emerge. I experienced and heard of instances when some women, instead of helping a new female colleague, tried to undermine her. Rather than giving “the new girl” the tools to succeed, they might try to sabotage her advancement.

I saw some men, raised in a different era [my note: of course not men her age, right? Because they are, like, all into equality] , who refused to take young women seriously, focused on their appearance and gave them the least desirable assignments. Even in this day and age, I saw women becoming “assistant-ized”— saddled with all the coffee runs and photocopying. [Gasp!!!]

Can you believe it? She managed to grow up in a non-sexist town, and then go to a non-sexist school, and then found this where she worked?

Deep breath. I am sorry. Okay, clearly this was written by a well-meaning young woman, and I don’t mean to take this out on her. But this is one of the huge problems with so-called post-feminism (which I think is absolute BS) – apparently, in at least some forms, it blinds you to inequality and sexism when you see it and/or then hits you over the head with it when you think everything is just equal and just and fair and great and then – whoa! all of a sudden you aren’t being treated equally and then you go and write naive articles and books like this one.

Throughout the WHOLE article she refers to graduated-from-college working women, including herself, as girls. With apparently no sense of how that might shape perceptions of herself, other women her age, or, you know, the perceptions her collegues have of her.

How depressing. And how shady of the New York Times to publish such a fluffy, uninformed, naive article. I feel bad for Ms. Seligson and other young women like her who are so shocked by sexism. Yet, without some sort of analysis of the structures that produce sexism – and an acknowledgment that it has been there all along and it is not just men “from a different era” that are part of and produce the sexism edifice – I am afraid that all the books in the world about how to deal with workplace sexism are not going to solve the problem – for them, or for future generations of girls and women.

I hope I can be a small part of a feminist movement for the 21st century that doesn’t let girls and young women be duped into thinking that they live in a time of post-feminism and where there is no institutional gender bias. Because it is there (a great place to find heartbreaking example after example is www.feministing.com) and it is shaping lives – of men and women, girls and boys. We must name it. And work against it. I wish we would have done a better job of reaching young women like the author of this article. I hope we can do a better job of reaching others.

One Short Thought on McCain’s VP pick

August 30, 2008

I know I am like the ten millionth blogger to have something to say about this because the opportunities for criticism and shock mixed with maybe-this-will-finally-do-McCain-in hopefulness are so plentiful. But seriously, the New York Times says this morning

In choosing Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate and bidding for supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton, John McCain risked undercutting his case against Barack Obama.

And I just think – exactly how many voters does McCain think were/are  Hillary Clinton supporters who are now going to be like, “Well, HRC didn’t work out, but gosh, that Sarah Palin is a great second choice.” Could McCain actually just think that the great thing everyone thought about Hillary was that she is a woman? Like any one of them ladies will do, right? I am not a huge follower of presidential politics, mostly because I find the whole thing depressing, but I am intrigued by the apparent miscalculation and weird thinking that must have gone into this choice. I am really surprised that no one stopped him. Surely his advisors and other high-up Republicans did not see this as a wise choice. Well, since I think Obama is clearly a better option (although not the savior of the world and politics as many hail him to be) all the better for him – and for us.

New York Times Watch: Exclusive breastfeeding may not be best for your baby. Ugg.

August 27, 2008

I am so appalled by this New York Times article. There is an absolute public health consensus that exclusive breastfeeding through six months is best and highly beneficial (see WHO guidelines, AAP guidelines) and breastfeeding (with introduction of some solid foods) through one year (AAP guidelines) or two years (WHO guidelines) is ideal.  The Times article raises questions about vitamin D deficiency in exclusively breastfed babies.  The author writes:

Physicians have known for more than a century that exclusive breast-feeding may be associated with vitamin D deficiency and rickets, and that the condition is easily prevented and treated with inexpensive vitamin drops or cod liver oil. But doctors are reluctant to say anything that might discourage breast-feeding.

Now some researchers are also linking vitamin D deficiency with other chronic diseases like diabetes, autoimmune disorders and even cancer, and there have been calls to include blood tests of vitamin D levels in routine checkups.

There is nothing wrong, of course, with pointing out that there are low levels of vitamin D in some mothers and breastfed babies and that this should be attended to. But I just kept waiting for the punch line when the author of the article points out that, “Although there is a risk of vitamin D deficiency, it is always far better to exclusively breastfeed babies through six months, and partial breastfeed through at least a year, and deal potential vitamin D deficiency through regular exposure to the sun, a balanced diet on the part of the mother, and supplementation (either of mother or infant, depending on situation), than to not breastfeed due to potential vitamin D deficiency.”

But the author never says anything like this.

She does quote a mom who says, “I thought I was doing the best thing for her,” after blood tests showed her daughter had no detectable vitamin D. Implying, of course, that she was not doing the best thing for her by breastfeeding.

And the author quotes a doctor who says, “I completely support breast-feeding, and I think breast milk is the perfect food, and the healthiest way to nourish an infant. However, we’re finding so many mothers are vitamin D deficient themselves that the milk is therefore deficient, so many babies can’t keep their levels up. They may start their lives vitamin D deficient, and then all they’re getting is vitamin D deficient breast milk,” which, if you read the first part, is sort of an endorsement of breastfeeding although it is quickly followed up by its “dangers.”

It isn’t as if anything said in the article is wrong. And if you already know how important it is to breastfeed (when possible, of course – some moms do not have the ability or luxury of breastfeeding, and this is in no way a critique of them) then this article isn’t going to discourage you. However, if you aren’t sure this article could be read as, “Better be safe than sorry and just do formula.” Which is not good for so many reasons (Mothering Magazine covers this well – see, for instance here, here or here.)

It reminds me of this new style (or maybe it is old, but I notice it more these days) of writers trying to be somehow “neutral” by saying, “Well, so and so says this,” and “another so and so says this” and leaving it at that like, “Well, we’ll just let the reader decide,” even when it comes to things where there is a clear consensus.

I just feel like the slight gains in making mamas and families feel like breastfeeding is a good, viable option for feeding their babies are fragile and I wish the Times would be a little bit more careful in their approach to such important topics. And, although I don’t like the Times article, it is mostly upsetting in the wider context that there is a lack of awareness of the importance of breastfeeding and climate of non-support of breastfeeding mothers. And this just doesn’t help things much.