Sonora Smart Dodd, whose father raised her and her siblings after their mother died in childbirth, was inspired to propose the holiday in 1910 after attending a church service honoring mothers. Even so, while federal law enshrined the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day in 1914, it took another half-century for fathers to receive similar recognition, first with Lyndon B. Johnson issuing a presidential proclamation in 1966 and then with Congress enacting an official holiday in 1972.
Friday, September 23, 2022
The notion that the selflessness and tenderness babies require is uniquely ingrained in the biology of women, ready to go at the flip of a switch, is a relatively modern — and pernicious — one. It was constructed over decades by men selling an image of what a mother should be, diverting our attention from what she actually is and calling it science.
It keeps us from talking about what it really means to become a parent, and it has emboldened policymakers in the United States, generation after generation, to refuse new parents, and especially mothers, the support they need.
New research on the parental brain makes clear that the idea of maternal instinct as something innate, automatic and distinctly female is a myth, one that has stuck despite the best efforts of feminists to debunk it from the moment it entered public discourse.
To understand just how urgently we need to rewrite the story of motherhood, how very fundamental and necessary this research is, it's important to know how we got stuck with the old telling of it.
Wednesday, August 24, 2022
Sex positivity — the idea that feminism should privilege sexual pleasure and fight sexual repression — has dominated feminism for most of my life. It was a reaction to puritanical trends in feminism that ignored the reality of women’s desires.
Some second-wave feminists had treated heterosexual sex — as well as remotely kinky queer sex — as inherently degrading, if not counterrevolutionary, which naturally drove many women away from feminism. (In a 1972 Village Voice essay, Karen Durbin described dropping out of the women’s movement in part because she was “hopelessly heterosexual.”) Sex-positive feminism understood the demand for celibacy or political lesbianism as a dead end, and saw sexual fulfillment as part of political liberation.
But sex positivity now seems to be fading from fashion among younger people, failing to speak to their longings and frustrations just as anti-porn feminism failed to speak to those of an earlier generation. It’s no longer radical, or even really necessary, to proclaim that women take pleasure in sex. If anything, taking pleasure in sex seems, to some, vaguely obligatory. In a July BuzzFeed News article headlined, “These Gen Z Women Think Sex Positivity Is Overrated,” one 23-year-old woman said, “It feels like we were tricked into exploiting ourselves.
I started noticing the turn away from sex positivity a few years ago, when I wrote about a revival of interest in Dworkin’s work. Since then, there have been growing signs of young women rebelling against a culture that prizes erotic license over empathy and responsibility. (A similar reorientation is happening in other realms; generational battles over free speech are often about whether freedom should take precedence over sensitivity.)
Post #MeToo, feminists have expanded the types of sex that are considered coercive to include not just assault, but situations in which there are significant power differentials. Others are using new terms for what seem like old proclivities. The word “demisexual” refers to those attracted only to people with whom they share an emotional connection. Before the sexual revolution, of course, many people thought that most women were like this. Now an aversion to casual sex has become a bona fide sexual orientation.
Tuesday, August 23, 2022
Pink's New Women's Rights Protest Anthem, "Girls Just Wanna Have Rights, so Why Do We Have to Fight?"
My new work out song:
When the Supreme Court released its opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson on June 24, overturning Roe v. Wade, shock waves were felt across the U.S.—including from singer-songwriter P!nk, who took to Twitter to voice her outrage.
Abortion opponents swarmed P!nk’s account with hateful and violent messages, warning her to “shut up and sing.” Challenge accepted.
On July 13, P!nk tweeted in response, “Woke up. Got heated. Wrote song. Coming Soon.” A day later, her new song, “Irrelevant,” dropped—since deemed a ‘protest anthem.’ Marking her first collaboration with songwriter and producer Ian Fitchuk, the surprise track has been praised by critics.
“As a woman with an opinion and the fearlessness to voice that opinion, it gets very tiring when the only retort is to tell me how irrelevant I am,” the singer explained. “I am relevant because I exist and because I am a human being. No one is irrelevant. And no one can take away my voice.”
The song’s accompanying video, released on July 18, a few days after the song’s initial release, marries footage of protests and activism with clips of P!nk recording the song in the studio.
Click to full article to the video.
Monday, June 20, 2022
Susan Faludi, Op-ed, NYT, Feminism Made a Faustian Bargain with Celebrity Culture. Now Its Paying the Price
The ruination of Roe and the humiliation of Ms. Heard have been cast as cosmic convergence, evidence of a larger forced retreat on women’s progress. “Johnny Depp’s legal victory and the death of Roe v. Wade are part of the same toxic cultural movement,” a Vox article asserted. “These examples may seem disparate, but there’s an important through line,” a USA Today reporter wrote, citing academics who linked the Alito draft opinion, the Depphead mobbing and, for good measure, the “public consumption” of cleavage at the Met Gala (held the same night the Supreme Court draft leaked): “This is backlash.”
Backlash it may be. Even so, putting the pillorying of Ms. Heard in the same backlash-deplorables basket as the death rattle of Roe is a mistake. Lost in the frenzy of amalgamation lies a crucial distinction. There’s a through line, all right. Both are verdicts on the recent fraught course of feminism. But one tells the story of how we got here; the other where we’re headed. How did modern feminism lose Roe v. Wade? An answer lies in Depp v. Heard.***
Using celebrity and hashtag feminism is a perilous way to pursue women’s advancement because it falls victim so easily to its own tools and methods. In Ms. Heard’s case, her ex-husband turned #MeToo’s strategy against itself. Mr. Depp claimed victimization because he’s a money-generating personality — he could be de-famed because he’s famous. And his massive (and vicious) fan mobilization on social media (nearly 20 billion views for #JusticeForJohnnyDepp on TikTok by June 2) was overwhelming, even by #MeToo standards. By contrast, #JusticeForAmberHeard had about 80 million views on TikTok in the same period.
Celebrity representation of feminism is a double-edged sword. If an individual embodies the principle, the principle can be disproved by dethroning the individual. In that way, Ms. Heard became both avatar and casualty of celebrity feminism. When she took the stand, she brought the modern incarnation of the women’s movement into the dock, too, and mobilized those who would see it brought down. If an ambassador for women’s rights wasn’t credible, Ms. Heard’s mob of haters was quick to conclude, then the movement wasn’t, either. No need to fret over those legions of unfamous women who may now think twice before reporting domestic violence.
Coupling the fortunes of feminism to celebrity might have been worth it if it had led to meaningful political victories. But such victories are hard to achieve through marketing campaigns alone, as the right wing understands.
For decades, there was less political will to honor fathers, especially because many men regarded the holiday as “silly.” Such thinking continues to this day, as some men celebrate being fathers by using the holiday as a ticket to spend a day at the golf course, enjoying hours on “their” day away from their children.
This understanding of Father’s Day, though, misses the ways in which Americans have used the holiday as a political vehicle. In the latter decades of the 20th century, Father’s Day was a key battleground regarding parental rights and responsibilities for activists radicalized by the nation’s rapidly shifting familial landscape. At the root of this politicization of Father’s Day — maybe surprisingly — was the history of divorce.***
Enter Father's Day. As some feminists came to view child support enforcement as a key women’s issue, they turned to the new holiday as an opportunity to publicize their cause. In 1971, a group of women and children from the Association for Children Deprived of Support (ACDS) picketed the home of California assemblyman, and potential gubernatorial candidate, Robert Moretti on Father’s Day to press him to champion child-support reforms.
Several years later, in 1975, NOW chapters in Tulsa, Pittsburgh and Hartford, Conn., all participated in “Father’s Day Actions.” The Tulsa protesters promised, in a news release, that “Fathers who are not paying child support can expect that their names and the amounts they are in arrears will be announced” and publicly “displayed by mothers, children and concerned NOW members.” The Hartford women, for their part, laid a wreath at the door of the Superior Court of Connecticut to “mourn the loss of paternal responsibility by all the fathers involved in divorce, separation, and enforcement.”
Some divorced fathers, however, had their own political agenda for Father’s Day.
Fathers’ rights advocates objected to being used as “wallets” and claimed that their ex-wives purposely kept them from seeing their children in violation of visitation orders. In 1971, the National Council for Family Preservation — one of several failed attempts by fathers’ rights advocate Richard F. Doyle to form a robust national organization like NOW — urged its member groups to hold protests on the Saturday before Father’s Day, noting that fathers might “want to be elsewhere with their children on Sunday.” In a news release, Doyle called for the recognition of the “stupid and cruel divorce laws and practices that have made this holiday a mockery for countless fathers and children.”
Monday, June 6, 2022
Supporters of the right to abortion often stumble over the word itself, choosing “choice” as a more acceptable thing to be “pro.” Only recently in the long history of the abortion debate have advocacy groups started to press for use of the word “abortion” and ask that people “shout” their abortions, as one campaign puts it.***
In the 18th and most of the 19th century, before abortion became the province of the medical establishment and the courts, the procedure was widespread, and abortifacients — drugs that cause abortions — were widely marketed. But there was no advertising for “abortions.”
The woman-centered language was a code of sorts. The advertisers encrypted the word “abortion” to evade moral censure and — after the Comstock Act of 1873 criminalized the distribution of abortifacients — to avoid legal consequences as well.
Women knew what regaining their “regularity” really meant, though, just as today we all know that a “cleanse” or a “detox” most likely includes a laxative or diuretic. Early Viagra ads said “love life again” — not “chemically induce your erection.”
But even if marketing Dr. Peter’s French Renovating Pills as “a blessing to mothers” was euphemistic, it circulated a potent message about women’s perfectly reasonable desire not to be pregnant. A desire they have been seeking means to fulfill since at least the Roman Empire.
Instead there were ads for “Relief for Ladies” suffering from “obstructed menses.” “Female renovating pills” treated “all cases where nature has stopped from any cause.” Dr. Pierce’s Favorite Prescription promised to clear away “all the troubles and ailments that make woman’s life a burden to her. She’s relieved, cured, and restored.”
“This invaluable medicine,” read an ad for Sir J. Clarke’s Female Pills, “moderates all excess, removes all obstructions, and brings on the monthly period with regularity.”
Friday, June 3, 2022
The “My Body, My Data Act” would require that companies only collect and retain reproductive health information that is “strictly needed” to provide one of their services, unless they otherwise obtain explicit consent from a user. And it would give users the right to demand that their information be deleted or for companies to disclose how they are using the data.***
The legislation would give the Federal Trade Commission the power to enforce the new standards but also give consumers the ability to launch their own lawsuits against companies in violation and allow states to implement privacy laws that build on the bill’s protections. ***
Given broad Republican opposition to expanding abortion protections and an evenly split Senate, Jacobs’s proposal is unlikely to become federal law. But she argued there’s momentum behind the effort that could inspire state-level action.
“We think this can be a model for states as they're trying to figure out how they can best protect people's right to abortion,” she said.
Thursday, May 26, 2022
Molly Pratt, "'He Took It Out.' How Comedic Television Shows Shape Jurors' Perceptions of Workplace Sexual Harassment," 90 U.M.K.C. L. Rev. (2022)
This Comment analyzes the ways in which depictions of sexual harassment in media, specifically situational comedic ("sit-com") television series, affect potential jurors' understanding and evaluation of workplace sexual harassment claims. Part I begins by explaining the "cultivation theory," which hypothesizes that television shapes viewers' beliefs about the world around them. This section also considers social science evidence that exemplifies how people are influenced by different forms of media, especially media depictions that sexually objectify women. Next, Part II describes the elements of the two different types of harassment claims to provide a backdrop of what real humans, not characters on television, endure every day at work. Part III compares two major sensationalized claims of sexual harassment that have occurred over the past thirty years. Part IV summarizes various episodes of Seinfeld, Veep, and Curb Your Enthusiasm that include scenes of sexual harassment in order to analyze how prospective jurors might consider the illegal harassment shown on television almost every night. Finally, Part V proposes actions that can be taken by the legal and entertainment industries to ameliorate the harmful effects that comedic depictions of sexual harassment can have on juries.
Comedic television episodes which downplay workplace sexual harassment situations that would otherwise make for valid claims under Title VII may cause jurors to become desensitized to the severity of real-world harassment experienced by real-world victims. While this Comment aims to illustrate how media consumption affects the breadth of the legal industry, its underlying goal is to shed light on how inaccurate depictions of legal issues can be harmful to a viewer who is untrained in the law.
Wednesday, May 25, 2022
***To help understand how we got to this point, here is a list of 10 books — five that examine the legal, political and social foundations of abortion in America, followed by another five that explore all that abortion has encompassed since Roe: issues of violence and stigma, politics and race, medicine and law, philosophy and medicine.
Abortion in America: The Origins and Evolution of National Policy (1978), by James C. Mohr
Liberty and Sexuality: The Right to Privacy and the Making of Roe v. Wade (1994), by David Garrow
Before Roe v. Wade: Voices That Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court’s Ruling (2010), by Linda Greenhouse and Reva Siegel
Abortion & the Politics of Motherhood (1984), by Kristin Luker
Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade (2016), by Daniel K. Williams
After Roe: The Lost History of the Abortion Debate (2015), by Mary Ziegler
Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War (1998), by James Risen and Judy L. Thomas
Abortion After Roe (2015), by Johanna Schoen
Scarlet A: The Ethics, Law, and Politics of Ordinary Abortion (2018), by Katie Watson
‘What It Means to Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics (2020), by O. Carter Snead
Friday, May 20, 2022
AKRON, Ohio — As the anniversary nears of Sojourner Truth’s celebrated “Ain’t I a Woman” speech in Akron, a dedicated group of women is at work bringing a years-long dream to fruition — a tribute as memorable and powerful as the life and work of the slave-turned-suffragette, built on the site where she made history.
In less than two years, the Sojourner Truth Project Committee plans to build a 10,000-square-foot plaza that will welcome visitors coming into Akron from the north, with the word “TRUTH” clearly visible on entry. Near the plaza’s center will be a sculpture of Sojourner Truth seated on an Impala lily, a petal design radiating outward from her feet, and her right hand extended in welcome.
“Truth is such a big word. It’s so bold and so concrete. What it stands for is unwavering,” said Summit County Metro Parks’ landscape architect Dion Harris, who the committee commissioned to design the plaza.
Truth was a powerful voice for women’s rights, especially women of color. An emancipated New-York slave born Isabella Baumfree, she changed her name in 1843 before crisscrossing the nation to speak against slavery and for women’s rights.
On May 29, 1851 during an Ohio Women’s Rights Convention, the steps of the Old Stone Church on High Street served as Truth’s platform. She was not invited, nor was she asked to speak, but her speech that day is remembered as a voice for all women.
Although the steps are long gone, the power of Truth’s speech remains, rendering it one of the most important women’s rights speeches on record in the U.S.
Harris researched Truth’s life and work to infuse that meaning into the design, he said. The impala lily is the national flower of Ghana, Truth’s ancestry on her father’s side.
Thursday, May 12, 2022
Just days after Politico published the leaked draft of Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Saturday Night Live opened with its own comedic analysis of the Supreme Court decision purportedly overturning Roe v. Wade. “Justice Samuel Alito explains that no woman has a right to an abortion, and, in fact, abortion is a crime,” a narrator explains, before highlighting several excerpts from the draft citing 13th century common law on punishments for ending a pregnancy after the “quickening” of a “foetus.”
The opening sketch then takes viewers back in time to dramatize the “profound moment of moral clarity” that Alito seems to believe should be the basis of our abortion laws in 2022. British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, in a mock medieval pageboy haircut, comes to a “revelation” about the need to criminalize abortion in an age of constant plague, disastrous hygiene, witch obsession, and flat-earth maps. The sketch brilliantly demonstrates the absurdity of reading a 21st century Constitution in light of a legal and scientific history most Americans would not embrace today.
The SNL skit posed an obvious question: Why would it make sense to rely upon 13th century law to decide something so important to half the population of the United States? It’s a question best answered by constitutional law scholars like myself. We all know Alito’s interpretive move—it’s called originalism or textualism—and it is full of theoretical complexity. For the most part, this is legal inside baseball. So why this lesson on originalism on SNL? And why now?
Because Alito’s leaked opinion in Dobbs was a bombshell. It takes up some of the most extreme rhetoric of the anti-abortion movement while citing, as SNL points out, centuries-old and outdated legal ideas. And so when people sat down to read the opinion, even the comedy writers at SNL saw what ordinarily the public pays no attention to: the absurdity of a constitutional methodology called originalism at work.
Wednesday, April 13, 2022
Bridget J. Crawford, Pink Tax and Other Tropes, Yale J. Law & Feminism (forthcoming)
Law reform advocates should be strategic in deploying tax tropes. Through an examination of five common tax phrases—the “nanny tax,” “death tax,” “soda tax,” “Black tax,” and “pink tax”—this Article demonstrates that tax rhetoric is more likely to influence law when used to describe specific economic injustices resulting from actual government duties, as opposed to figurative "taxes" in the form of other real-life burdens or differences. Slogans describing figurative taxes are less likely to influence law and human behavior, even if they have descriptive force in both popular and academic literature as a short-hand for group-based disparities. This Article catalogues and evaluates what makes for effective tax talk, in terms of impact on both the law and day-to-day actions on the ground. With this roadmap, lawyers, policy makers and others will be able make more forceful and precise tax-based arguments aimed at reforming the law and changing human behavior.
This Article makes three principal claims—one descriptive, one empirical, and one normative.
The Article first develops a taxonomy of tax phrases, based on the object of critique. The classification distinguishes between criticisms of compulsory formal levies, on the one hand, and burdens or oppressions that are akin to taxes, on the other. The taxonomy also notes some differences among tax tropes based on their linguistic form. Some phrases deploy a single word modifier for “tax” (like “nanny,” “death,” or “soda”) to signify a larger relationship, event, or transaction that is subject to taxation. Other phrases use a single-word modifier for “tax” (like “Black” or “pink”) that is strongly associated with the persons subject to taxation.
The Article next engages in a content analysis of multiple data sets of printed popular and scholarly literature to compare the relative “success” of the phrases “nanny tax,” “death tax,” “soda tax,” “Black tax,” and “pink tax” in terms of frequency of use, links to legal reform, and impacts on taxpayer behavior. The resulting preliminary hypothesis is that tax tropes that deploy suggestive modifiers to describe literal taxes are more effective than those that allude to identity axes associated with figurative taxes.
Given the particular variability of the “pink tax” trope, the Article turns to normative recommendations for how gender equality advocates might rethink use of that phrase in particular. The “pink tax” is useful as an overarching description of related manifestations of gender inequality: the gender wage gap, gender-based pricing differences in consumer goods or services, disproportionate expenses incurred by a large portion of the population for safe travel or to maintain stereotypically “feminine” appearances, and unequal time burdens experienced by those responsible for households or caregiving. But only one manifestation of the “pink tax,” as a description for the state sales tax on menstrual products, has been well served by a tax shorthand phrase. “Tampon tax” talk has fueled litigation and advocacy efforts; it has led to sales tax reform in least ten jurisdictions, with more states expected to follow. Indeed, “pink tax” rhetoric describing figurative taxes might not, on its own, lead directly to legal change. For that reason, at least when arguing for law reform, gender equality advocates should not over-rely on “pink tax” talk and figurative tax tropes.
Wednesday, April 6, 2022
Full disclosure: As a writer of all things feminist policy and politics, I’m not a theater reviewer. But I have to report that after experiencing Suffs (still in previews), it is a modern marvel of a musical. With its impeccable period costumes and powerhouse all-female cast, Suffs explores the women who drove the 19th Amendment across the finish line a century ago—and whose tactics and strategies continue to shape the fight for social and political equality.
Unlike the limited lessons of women’s suffrage many learn—Seneca Falls and Susan B. Anthony—Suffs digs deep into the gamesmanship wielded by the movement’s early 20th century leaders. Among those are Carrie Chapman Catt, stalwart of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, who favored winning the vote state-by-state while wielding elite, inside influence to push for a federal amendment; Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, next-gen radicals of the day, whose National Women’s Party crafted the playbook for civil disobedience; and Chicago journalist Ida B. Wells and activist Mary Church Terrell whose call out of the unique plight of Black women framed the fight for universal suffrage.***
How little the general public has absorbed about this movement and its myriad players is not an accident, suggests Lucy Beard, director of the Alice Paul Institute, in a 2020 interview. Activists like Alice Paul and Inez Milholland, as well as many of the others portrayed in Suffs—Doris Stevens, Ruza Wenclawska, and Dudley Malone, hardly household names—“represented the radical part of the suffrage movement,” said Beard, “[and] history generally gets written by the moderates.”
Suffs may be just the medium to change that. And a bonus, it also manages to impart a dose of pragmatic wisdom for today’s activists: that radical and moderate strategies need not forever be locked in conflict but rather can be combined to force-multiply and win seismic change.
“Suffs” is opening in the same theater where “Hamilton” — and America’s runaway romance with the roguish “ten dollar founding father” — was born. Are audiences open to seeing Taub’s feminist founding mothers as similarly three-dimensional heroes, shaded by their flaws rather than simply damned by them?
“Suffs” may be about women. But their long fight for the vote, Taub said, can stand in for any of the great social movements in American history, all of which were also messy, fractious, imperfect — and unfinished.
Thursday, March 17, 2022
As recently as the 1970s, women’s history was virtually an unknown topic in the K-12 curriculum or in general public consciousness. To address this situation, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women initiated a “Women’s History Week” celebration for 1978.
The week March 8th, International Women’s Day, was chosen as the focal point of the observance. The local Women’s History Week activities met with enthusiastic response, and dozens of schools planned special programs for Women’s History Week. Over one-hundred community women participated by doing special presentations in classrooms throughout the country and an annual “Real Woman” Essay Contest drew hundreds of entries. The finale for the week was a celebratory parade and program held in the center of downtown Santa Rosa, California.
Mobilizing a Movement
In 1979, Molly Murphy MacGregor, a member of our group, was invited to participate in The Women’s History Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, which was chaired by noted historian, Gerda Lerner and attended by the national leaders of organizations for women and girls. When the participants learned about the success of the Sonoma County’s Women’s History Week celebration, they decided to initiate similar celebrations within their own organizations, communities, and school districts. They also agreed to support an effort to secure a “National Women’s History Week.”
Presidential and Congressional Support
The first steps toward success came in February 1980 when President Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th 1980 as National Women’s History Week. In the same year, Representative Barbara Mikulski, who at the time was in the House of Representatives, and Senator Orrin Hatch co-sponsored a Congressional Resolution for National Women’s History Week 1981. This co-sponsorship demonstrated the wide-ranging political support for recognizing, honoring, and celebrating the achievements of American women.
A National Lobbying Effort
As word spread rapidly across the nation, state departments of education encouraged celebrations of National Women’s History Week as an effective means to achieving equity goals within classrooms. Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Oregon, Alaska, and other states developed and distributed curriculum materials for all of their public schools. Organizations sponsored essay contests and other special programs in their local areas. Within a few years, thousands of schools and communities were celebrating National Women’s History Week, supported and encouraged by resolutions from governors, city councils, school boards, and the U.S. Congress.
Each year, the dates of National Women’s History Week, (the week of March 8th) changed and every year a new lobbying effort was needed. Yearly, a national effort that included thousands of individuals and hundreds of educational and women’s organizations was spearheaded by the National Women’s History Alliance.
National Women’s History Month
By 1986, 14 states had already declared March as Women’s History Month. This momentum and state-by-state action was used as the rational to lobby Congress to declare the entire month of March 1987 as National Women’s History Month. In 1987, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity. A special Presidential Proclamation is issued every year which honors the extraordinary achievements of American women.
Presidential Message 1980
President Jimmy Carter’s Message to the nation designating March 2-8, 1980 as National Women’s History Week.
“From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.
As Dr. Gerda Lerner has noted, “Women’s History is Women’s Right.” – It is an essential and indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage, and long-range vision.”
I ask my fellow Americans to recognize this heritage with appropriate activities during National Women’s History Week, March 2-8, 1980.
I urge libraries, schools, and community organizations to focus their observances on the leaders who struggled for equality – – Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman, and Alice Paul. Understanding the true history of our country will help us to comprehend the need for full equality under the law for all our people.
This goal can be achieved by ratifying the 27th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that “Equality of Rights under the Law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
Thursday, December 16, 2021
A Little Word That Means a Lot: A Reassessment of Singular "They" in a New Era of Gender Politics, Gender & Society (Nov. 20, 2021)
In 2019, Merriam-Webster named they its Word of the Year in recognition of the “surprising fact” that lookups had risen a remarkable 313% over the previous year. This surge of interest in singular they attests to the rising visibility of genderqueer, nonbinary, and trans activism in the United States. A 2018 survey found that a majority of Americans have heard about gender-neutral pronouns and that nearly twenty percent of Americans know someone who uses nonbinary personal pronouns. In recent years, gender-inclusive pronoun practices—including pronoun “go-rounds” and adding pronouns to email signatures—have been widely adopted on campuses and in workplaces, and new legal protections have been created to prevent misgendering with pronouns.
Skeptics dismiss these practices as a fad, but English speakers have been using the singular they in situations when a person’s gender was nonspecific or unknown for at least 600 years. Esteemed authors including William Shakespeare and Jane Austen used it unapologetically as an indefinite pronoun. Today, it likely would go unnoticed to hear someone exclaim, “That car just cut me off! They should learn to drive.”
In fact, the idea that singular they is ungrammatical was produced by a political campaign that began in the late eighteenth century. At that time, scholarly authorities insisted that singular he be used instead of singular they on the grounds that “the Masculine gender is more worthy than the Feminine, and the Feminine more worthy than the Neuter.” In promoting usage of he as a generic pronoun, grammarians sought to discredit competing options. They dismissed the paired binary term he or she as cumbersome and argued that singular they creates ambiguity about whether we are discussing one person or many. Of course, the generic he creates a parallel ambiguity with respect to gender, but they pushed this concern aside.***
Meanwhile, since the early 2010s, a new generation of language reformers, led by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and more (LGBTQ+) activists, has taken up the cause of singular they. These activists promote language practices that recognize people with nonbinary gender identities, incuding singular they used as a nonbinary personal pronoun. Using singular they as a nonbinary personal pronoun resists biological essentialism and affirms everyone’s right to determine their own gender identity.
Concomitantly, some people have advocated that singular they be used for everyone as a universal pronoun on the grounds that it is “inclusive and flexible” and protects people’s privacy, among other reasons. Yet, some transgender advocates have objected to this proposal arguing that denying gender recognition by avoiding gendering can be experienced as a form of violence. Finally, some people now use singular they as a default indefinite pronoun to refer to a person who is known but whose self-defined gender identity is not.
Our Gender & Society article, “A Little Word That Means A Lot: A Reassessment of Singular They in a New Era of Gender Politics,” considers how singular they can be used to resist and redo aspects of the prevailing gender structure. We identify three distinct usages of singular they: 1) as a nonbinary personal pronoun; 2) as a universal gender-neutral pronoun; and 3) as an indefinite pronoun when a person’s self-identified gender is unknown. While previous research has focused primarily on singular they as a nonbinary personal pronoun, our paper points to the importance of all three usages. We offer new insight into how nonbinary they challenges dominant gender norms and practices beyond incorporating additional gender categories. We propose further investigation of how using gender-neutral pronouns for everyone in specific contexts can advance progressive activists’ goals. Finally, we argue that the longstanding usage of singular they as an indefinite pronoun has new importance today in affirming gender as a self-determined identity.
Our analysis demonstrates that using singular they advances gender justice. Buying into the depoliticized grammar argument is not merely ahistorical but politically costly in the struggle for gender justice.
Wednesday, November 10, 2021
Why Don't Women Rule the World?: Understanding Women's Civic and Political Choices
- J. Cherie Strachan - Central Michigan University, USA
- Lori M. Poloni-Staudinger - Northern Arizona University, USA
- Shannon Jenkins - University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, USA
- Candice D. Ortbals - Pepperdine University, USA
“[Why Don’t Women Rule the World?] is unlike other texts in its comparative approach and strong theoretical underpinnings. It has interesting pedagogical features that will resonate with comparative scholars, Americanists and those who integrate public policy analysis into the course.”
—Rebecca E. Deen, University of Texas at Arlington
Why don’t women have more influence over the way the world is structured?
Written by four leaders within the national and international academic caucuses on women and politics, Why Don't Women Rule the World? helps students to understand how the underrepresentation of women manifests within politics, and the impact this has on policy. Grounded in theory with practical, job-related activities, the book offers a thorough introduction to the study of women and politics, and will bolster students’ political interests, ambitions, and efficacy.
- A comparative perspective expands students’ awareness of their own intersectional identities and the varying effects of patriarchy on women worldwide.
- A variety of policy areas highlighted throughout the book illustrates how different theories are applied to real-world situations.
- Multiple political engagement activities keep students engaged with the content.
Wednesday, October 20, 2021
Women’s satisfaction with the treatment of their gender in the United States is at a record low, according to a Gallup poll. A majority of men, however, don’t see a problem.
The study, released last week, found that 53 percent of Americans are very or somewhat satisfied with the treatment of women in society — tying a record low that first hit when the #MeToo movement gained national attention in 2017. Since 2016, women’s satisfaction has dropped 17 points to 44 percent, while men’s fell by five points to 61 percent, according to Gallup’s findings.
The poll also found that 61 percent of men think men and women have equal job opportunities, while 33 percent of women agree. However, majorities of both genders, 72 percent of women and 61 percent of men — favored affirmative action programs for women.
Gallup’s findings underscore how men and women view gender equity issues differently in the United States, said Radhika Balakrishnan, a professor of women’s gender and sexuality studies at Rutgers University, adding that male privilege can often distort men’s perception of gender disparities.***
Gallup’s findings underscore how men and women view gender equity issues differently in the United States, said Radhika Balakrishnan, a professor of women’s gender and sexuality studies at Rutgers University, adding that male privilege can often distort men’s perception of gender disparities.
Wednesday, October 13, 2021
The press is under a growing and dangerous form of attack through identity-based online harassment of journalists. Armies of online abusers are strategically targeting non-white and non-male journalists to intimidate and silence their voices using a variety of rhetorical tools (including references to lynching, the Holocaust, rape and dismemberment). Such expressive violence is matched by the mounting physical dangers faced by reporters, both in the United States, as evidenced during Black Lives Matter protests in summer 2020, and around the world. Unsurprisingly, identity-based online harassment of reporters has increased at the very moment that news organizations attempt to enhance the diversity of the professional press.
The ‘double whammy’ of online harassment and physical danger goes far beyond harming individual journalists, although those damages ought not be understated. The scale and intensity of these online identity-based attacks collectively undermine all journalists and the press as a whole. While prior accounts, especially by media studies scholars, have recognized the threat to the press writ large, this Article is the first to identify these attacks as one of three reinforcing tactics designed to hobble journalism at critical inflection points in its lifecycle. The refrain of ‘fake news’ is designed to undermine public faith in press output, critiques of libel law seek to roll back press-protective judicial outcomes, and identity-based verbal violence works to undercut and paralyze the journalistic process. Thus, racial and misogynistic vitriol, while generated ‘bottom up’ by members of the audience, is also an element of elite press-delegitimating strategies that presidential change has not derailed.
The Article analyzes the factors that most contribute to growing peril for our democracy, including the professional self-monitoring and self-censorship inevitable in conditions of harassment; the likely effects of reporter intimidation on news organization diversity; and the particularly ‘sticky’ character of identity-based vitriol for the audiences exposed to it.
Finding realistic ways to stem and counteract online identity-based abuse is an imperative next step if the press is to perform its constitutionally-recognized role under current conditions of existential threat. Traditional legal responses are insufficient for such non-traditional devices. The Article develops and advocates a variety of ameliorative moves directed to a spectrum of actors: news organizations, journalism schools, press-protective organizations, social media platforms, and social science researchers. Collective, rather than individual, solutions across a range of constituencies offer the only realistic hope of stemming this tide.
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Many of us have seen the iconic photo of interracial sisterhood with Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes from 1971, now part of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. While we know a lot about Steinem from popular media, history books, autobiographies and even a Broadway play, most of us know very little about Pitman Hughes. But we should.
The recent publication of Pitman Hughes’s biography—With Her First Raised: Dorothy Pitman Hughes and the Transformative Power of Black Community Activism—by University of Massachusetts historian Laura Lovett shares this forgotten history. According to Lovett, her book offers “a history of the women’s movement with children, race and welfare rights at its core, a history of women’s politics grounded in community organizing and African American economic development.”...
Throughout her life, Pitman Hughes sought to make the lives of ordinary women better by working to empower communities to meet their needs—whether that was child care, recognition of Black women’s inherent beauty or access to economic resources or local healthy food. The book recounts her early experiences of racism, including “routine extralegal violence from the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens’ Councils,” her work with the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), the Black Panthers and Malcolm X, and her friendships with people like Flo Kennedy and Ti-Grace Atkinson, as well as Steinem....
“Dorothy’s style was to call out the racism she saw in the white women’s movement. She frequently took to the stage to articulate the way in which white women’s privilege oppressed Black women but also offered her friendship with Gloria as proof this obstacle could be overcome,” said Lovett.
Pitman Hughes also organized the first shelter for battered women in New York City, co-founded the New York City Agency for Child Development working to expand child care services in the city and was a co-founder of the National Black Feminist Organization.
Thursday, September 16, 2021
In the case of personal identity, I am drawn to default pronouns that don’t assume others’ gender. Instead of assuming someone’s gender identity based on how they look or dress or act, it is more appropriate to refer to them as “they” until I know better. And whenever possible, it is important to create early opportunities to learn their chosen pronouns, which has become standard practice in academic and other settings.
Starting with the inclusive default “they” is less likely to cause offense than using harmful stereotypes to guess at someone’s pronouns. In grade school, one of my children was advised to adopt a similar strategy to address female teachers as “Ms.” until the teacher said that they prefer “Miss” or “Mrs.” Non-identification is a much less costly default than misidentification.
Some people harp on how difficult it is to make this kind of linguistic change. But broadly adopting the singular “they” can actually reduce a speaker’s cognitive load. Years ago, my parents told me they liked “Ms.” because they no longer had to presume whether a woman was married or not. Calling people “they” by default similarly relieves the speaker of having to guess at someone’s gender. More importantly, it has the advantage of reducing gender-related assumptions that listeners might make. And it has the crucial benefit of more respectfully addressing people with nonbinary identities. Just as all-gender bathrooms make life easier for transgender people, using the singular “they” default, until told otherwise, affirms linguistic space in the classroom for people who do not exclusively identify as men or women.