From Sotomayor to The Cost of Being Female: Feminism in 2009

BlogHer Original Post

The end of the year is for reflection.  I like to take a look back at all the feminism & gender issues I covered for BlogHer.  Since it's hard for me to remember what happened an hour ago, let alone in July or, heaven forbid, January, this is an important exercise for me. It reminds me what feminists accomplished, what still needs to be done, and what I'll can only laugh about or else I'll be curled up in the fetal position whimpering.  This year, I sorted stories by topic.


First Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, is confirmed in August.  The journey was ridiculous, as Nordette Adams noted at BlogHer, with every special interest group on the planet raising some sort of objection. When Sotomayor was finally confirmed, Maegan La Mamita Mala at Vivir Latino congratulated her: "Felicidades to fellow Nuyorican mujer Sonia Sotomayor who was confirmed today by the U.S. Senate as the 111th justice of the Supreme Court." Brings tears to my eyes.

Alysa Stanton becomes the first African American female rabbi.

September 22, the first day of autumn of 2009, saw another first: Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa L. King was appointed first female head of the Army drill sergeant school in Ft. Jackson, SC.  Meloukhia at this ain't livin' wrote, "Congratulations are in order for Sergeant Major Teresa L. King... Seriously... she’s amazing."

Beauty and Body Image

The star of Precious, actress Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe, is over 300 pounds.  She told New York Magazine, "I love the way I look. I’m fine with it. And if my body changes, I’ll be fine with that." If only more girls and women were like this!!! mo pie at big fat deal wrote, "don’t want to be caught unawares when she’s walking down the red carpet on Oscar night and we need to post about how hot she looks and/or what insane thing she’s wearing...I’m thrilled to see actresses like Sidibe and Mo’Nique getting recognition for this project..."

On Halloween (insert "trick" joke here), Suzi Godson told a woman in the The Times that if she wants to keep her younger boyfriend, she should groom herself in the way he finds attractive. And by groom, I mean get a Brazilian wax. According to Godson, porn has rendered men incapable of looking at women with pubic hair and finding them attractive. Unsolicited Opinion rakes Godson over the rails. After analyzing the idea that porn guides instinct, she concluded, "I hope the letter-writer has the good sense to ignore her stupid advice... and either tell her young man to appreciate her body or get the hell out of Dodge." BellaSugar turned to sex educator Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., MPH for a second opinion. Her advice also made much more sense than Godson's. I summarize: "I would advise this particular woman — and any woman or man who isn't sure what to do with their pubic hair — to do only what they feel comfortable or sexy doing."


In February, a full three weeks before the front page of The New York Times blared As Layoffs Surge, Women May Pass Men in Job Force, their own economic blogger, Casey B. Mulligan broke the news to blog readers: women are, for the first time, more than 49% of the workforce. Signal handwringing, finger pointing, and name calling fests for the rest of 2009.  Ann Bartow at Feminist Law Professors asked how long it will be until "the economic recession is labeled an evil plot by feminists." Of course, the reason for women's job security in these scary economic times is sadly due to gender segregation. As the Times explains:

a full 82 percent of the job losses have befallen men, who are heavily represented in distressed industries like manufacturing and construction. Women tend to be employed in areas like education and health care, which are less sensitive to economic ups and downs, and in jobs that allow more time for child care and other domestic work.

The other reason that women are finding themselves working is that they tend to be paid less than men, both because of the careers they opt for that "allow more time for child care and other domestic work" and because even when women perform the exact same job as men, they tend to be paid less. The Association for American University Women reports that "just one year out of college, women working full time already earn less than their male colleagues, even when they work in the same field. Ten years after graduation, the pay gap widens." I'm fairly certain that most 21 or 22 year old female college graduates have the same demands on their time for "child care and other domestic work" as men their age in their fields do, so we can't chalk that up to personal decisions, just pay inequities, which arise for many reasons.

Melanie Klein at FeministFatale reminds us that while women may never have been the majority of the workforce, the "traditional" family with a stay-at-home mom and working dad has not been normative in the United States for a long time (and never was for low-income families and families of color). That hasn't stopped many "traditional" people from grousing about who is going to take care of the kids while all the women are at work. Which is an equally sad reflection on the hardline gender roles assigned to men and women, as it seems logical to me that if men are at home, they can take care of the kids while women work. Last time I checked, men do have the capacity to care for their own offspring. Maybe - just maybe - kids and dads even benefit from the new situation as they develop new bonds?  Unfortunately, reports throughout the year indicate that fathers do not pick up more than a few additional hours of caregiving per week.

Michael Pollan gets major props for bringing unsustainable food practices to the forefront of national dialog, but my book club (which reads In Defense of Food in July) finds him to be classist and sexist. A New York Times Magazine cover story blames feminism for all of our food issues today. I eat a batch of Oreos in protest. Susan Aligas at Feminist Jayhawk responds, "as a woman, I bristle, because he harkens nostalgically back to a time when I would have been bearing babies, working in kitchen gardens and cooking for most of my life. I would not be in law school. (Although my general rule is that I only time-travel as a wealthy man.)"

Cost of Being Female

The New York Times reports in February that women are charged more for dry cleaning than men because most machines are built for men's shirts, requiring women's shirts to be pressed by hand, thus enabling them to flout New York City law, which bars “the public display of discriminatory pricing based on gender.”  New Yorker Janet Floyd, who wears a size 4P, was really, really angered by this, and looked into the availability of adjustable presses. Turns out that they are available, and they are half the cost of a men's press.

Also in February, Notes to My Sister wrote an excellent post about how men's razors are better than women's, but cost less.

I continue to rage over an October 2008 report that self-employed women were charged as much as 49% more than men for the exact same health insurance policies. The basis for such discrimination: women go to the doctor more than men for preventative care. Yes, and last time I checked, it is far more cost efficient to pay for preventative care than emergency care, so that argument is bunk.  (see Health category for 2009 failures on this topic...)

A trip to my local pharmacy chain opens my eyes to the fact that deodorant marketed for women costs more than that for men, although most containers offer less product.


In February, Some Hidden Choices in Breast Reduction by Natasha Singer, which is most insultingly a part of The New York Times' "The Price of Beauty" series, explored the different options women are offered - and not offered - after a mastectomy. I'm sure that readers will be shocked - shocked! - to hear that women are not always informed of the different types of breast reconstructions available because some procedures are less profitable for doctors and hospitals than others. Profit above women's health? Who wouldda thunk it?  In addition, black women are even less likely to be offered a full range of choices regarding post-mastectomy options.  Like me,MMM at Mage's double whammy diary is offended that this article is categorized as the "beauty," noting:

I'm still struggling to articulate exactly what all the issues related to losing a breast are, so it's hard for me to write exactly why this is so galling. It feels misleading, dismissive, and minimizing. It seems to reduce the issues around post-mastectomy breast reconstruction down to vanity...if I was reading the New York Times on paper right now, instead of on-line, I would take the biggest fattest sharpie I could find and cross out, "The Price of Beauty." In it's place I would write a more truthful, more accurate and more controversial title.

"The Price of Capitalist Health Care: Hidden Choices In Breast Reconstruction."

At least women have access to mastectomies. Women who need kidney transplants are shit out of luck. In March, Kate Harding at Salon's Broadsheet reported that researchers at Johns Hopkins analyzed data from over half a million patients with renal disease.  They found "that female patients over the age of 45 do not have the same access to transplant waiting lists as their male counterparts."  The disparity only grew wider as women aged.

More controversy over Gardasil. Seriously, Merck will not rest until they've gotten every breathing being on the planet to pay for this damn vaccine.

Since late July, I have been worrying that any national health plan that was passed by Congress would not cover abortion services. It turns out that I have been wringing my hands over the exact wrong thing. What really, really, really scares American women - including the president of NOW, Terry O'Neil - are proposals levying an "almost 5%" tax on critical women's health services: breast augmentations, facelifts, tummy tucks and other procedures.  O'Neil is protesting the tax for discriminating against women, particularly older women who cannot get jobs unless they have Botox or eye work because people hate hiring hags. Thealogian at Fat Feminist Fitness Blog diagrees with O'Neil, proposing that, "The problem isn't the tax, its the unhealthy expectations of the unaging woman and that a woman's worth is bound up in her appearance..." She goes on to say, "I'm much more concerned with the lack of maternity care and the ability of insurance companies to charge women carte blanche more for health insurance than me" And people worry that NOW is out of touch with the modern feminist movement - pshaw!

On the flip side of the "Bo-Tax" protest, NOW joins a coalition of women's health and reproductive rights organizations to ensure that any new national health care plan does not exclude abortion services from private insurance policies. The coalition is successful working with legislators to remove an amendment by Sen. Nelson and Hatch that would mirror language in the House bill (the Stupid - er, Stupak - amendment) that renders it impossible for private health plans to cover abortion services. This victory lasts less than two weeks before Nelson introduces yet another amendment to prevent women from receiving this crucial health care.  Although I am not surprised by this, my head explodes anyway.  Fortunately, my employer offers excellent insurance, which I hope will cover this.

A happy end of the year gift came in the form of the 2010 Omnibus spending bill. (Seriously, when was the last time I got to pen a sentence like that?) Rachel Larris at RH Reality Check wrote, "For the first time ever, the appropriations bill eliminated all funding for abstinence-only sex education programs in favor of evidence-based programs that focus on preventing unintended pregnancy." As if that isn't enough reason to celebrate, "for the first time in many years the U.S. will contribute $55 million to the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF)."  AND (!) "the appropriations bill also reverses a ban on use of local funds by the District of Columbia to pay for abortions for low-income women."  Hurray!!!


Women in Ireland push to legalize abortion.

As the election debacle in Iran unfolded this summer, my heart soared at all the headlines about the role women were playing and the demand for more rights.  "'Women have become primary agents of change in Iran,'" said Nayereh Tohidi, chairwoman of the Gender and Women's Studies Department at California State University, Northridge," on CNN. A young woman, Neda, is shot by Iranian police forces when she attended a protest with her father, and her image quickly becomes an international symbol. However, Fatemah at Muslimah Media Watch reminds readers that Neda "was young, slender, and pretty, and so Western media images are obsessed with watching her die over and over... The cruelty and horror of Neda’s death may be a call to action, but her death mask shouldn’t."

Although the subtitle ("Saving the World's Women") rankles me, the August 23 issue of the The New York Times Magazine did a nice job on putting together a magazine that sparked productive discussion on the situations faced by women around the globe, and why women's equality is crucial to human progress as a whole.

The Obama administration recommends that Rody Alvarado Peña be permitted to stay in the US, wrapping up a 15-year-old case in which she sought asylum after fleeing domestic violence. Marie at Every Day Is a Miracle wrote, "Finally, an option for women fleeing domestic abuse in other countries." Other bloggers noted that Ms. Alvarado's case follows a move from the Obama administration back in July 2009, when "the Board of Immigration Appeals ordered an immigration judge to further review the case of a battered Mexican woman who filed a petition for asylum in California," according to Maibe Gonzalez-Fuentes at Feet in 2 Worlds.

For the past four years, the World Economic Forum has studied the gender gap - that is, the amount of resources dedicated to boys and girls, and women's opportunities to fully participate in society - in over 100 countries, then ranked them.  Iceland (1), Finland (2), Norway (3), and Sweden (4) top the list of nations closing the gap. The US is shining at #31! Go us! The Well Read Hostess examined problems in our nation, and titled her post about the Maria Shriver report on the status of women in America, They Could Have Saved The Rockefeller Foundation The Cash And Just Asked Me. (HA!) On the other hand, as Diane K. Danielson wrote in a long post about women's declining status in the US on Downtown Women's Club, "at least we're not Italy (#72)."

A blogger at Feministe visits a Danish women's site and is invited to "hit the bitch" avatar as many as 15 times.  She watched her cry and cover her bruised face, and then was rated "100% gangsta" when the "bitch" collapsed. As the online abuser observed her status, the words changed.  This is not deemed by most people to be an effective way to prevent domestic violence.

The New Israel Fund asks human rights supporters to tell Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz that public buses serve the entire public, which includes women.  Currently, buses that run through ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods force women to ride in the back and dress modestly.  Sarah Berger at In the Moment reports the Israeli court system ruled that segregated buses could be OK if "voluntary," but that the men who punch, kick, slap, and verbally harass women who don't voluntarily disappear essentially make this a moot point. As debates whether or not to uphold his own commission's recommendation to ban the buses, Berger says that women’s and human rights groups worry that he will bend to the religious parties who make up the current government coalition. She concludes, "it is unfortunate that women will once again become victims of a religious and political power play."

Science and Gender

In March, Emily Nussbaum writes, "This Old Sperm: Science comes down on the side of the cougar," in New York Magazine.  She reports that the journal PLoS Medicine analyzed data from a study of over 50,000 pregnancies and determined that "the more geriatric the dad, the dimmer the progeny."  I am overjoyed to see coverage of this. Only 40% of infertility issues are linked to women alone. Another 40% are because the male partner has an issue. The remaining 20% of fertility problems are due to both partners. But male infertility rarely seems to be studied, and if it is, I don't know it because no mainstream media outlets cover it.

A new book by Lise Eliot, Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps—And What We Can Do About It (available online or at a fine bookstore near you ) reviews hundreds of scientific studies, and concludes that there is "little solid evidence of sex differences in children's brains." Along the way, Eliot presents compelling evidence that people treat baby boys and girls differently (even if they think they are not doing so nor intend to). The result of this gendered way of looking at babies impacts the development of brains, and "these various experiences produce sex differences in adult behavior and brains—the result not of innate and inborn nature but of nurture," according to Newsweek Senior Editor Sharon Begley, who wrote about the book.


In February, I lament missing the Fem2.0 conference, the most exciting, most amazing opportunity to dialogue with other feminists in my (short-ish) lifetime.  The conference is widely hailed as a success.  In one session liveblogged by LaurieWrites, "At the Crossroads," participants discussed the importance of a revamped feminist movement. Veronica at Viva La Feminista wrote that she's "so energized for the feminist movement both on the ground and online. I think we're going to see a lot new projects so rest up because there will be plenty of work to go around!"

Foreclosures disproportionally affect women.

Whether you love her, hate her, or just want to dress (or undress) her, it's only fair to wish Barbie a happy 50th birthday! The lady's been through a lot, even if she doesn't look like it. May Barbie to continue to inspire kids in ways both positive and deviant - the most feminist principle I can think of - for many more years!

What About Our Daughters provides poignant coverage of the murder of Asia McGowan. McGowan died after her killer posted threats against her on YouTube. Someone who viewed the video called the police, who ignored it. The tragedy is not only then a tale of threats of violence against women not being taken seriously, but in many cases, women of color specifically.  Later in 2009, Brigid Crawford at Feminist Law Professors explains how a serial killer in Cleveland escaped detection because police do not take seriously reports of disappeared women when they are black and/or addicted to drugs and/or mentally ill.

Cadbury gives women the finger, introducing a sexist chocolate bar in California, marketed as a nonguilty pleasure.  We know it is for women because it is glittery (thanks to mica - yum) and, as Sarah Gilbert at WalletPop remarked, it comes in "packaging [that] looks to me like a feminine hygiene product." FAIL.

After years of death threats, assassination attempts, and clinic attacks, anti-abortion fanatics finally succeed at killing Dr. George Tiller. Laura K. at We Move to Canada reports that the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) established the George Tiller Memorial Abortion Fund in honor of this brave and compassionate man. "The Fund will help women who need to terminate pregnancies in the second trimester pay for procedures, as well as paying for travel and lodging enroute to providers."

Marilyn French, groundbreaking author and historian, died of heart failure on May 3, 2009, at the age of 79. Her first book, The Women's Room, came out in 1977 and sold 20 million copies 24 languages. She inspired millions of women to stand up for themselves.  Rhea at The Boomer Chronicles praised French's impact: "Not only the feminist content of her work, but the writing. I dreamed of having her writing talent. And I regarded her as a genius."

Yet another man angry at women walks into a public place and kills people.  This time, George Sodini described the women working out at an LA Fitness Club in Pittsburgh as "so beautiful as to not be human." Janet Chung at Speaking of Woman's Rights... wrote, "But let’s not shrug this off as just another horrific headline, removed from each of our daily lives. No. Let this remind us of why it is so important to challenge sexism whenever and wherever it occurs."

Sgt. Kimberly Munley stops the massacre at Ft. Hood with her partner.  It seems that women can perform well at nontraditional jobs.

Yes, 2009 was full of ups and downs for issues of concern to feminists. While I am a cynic and doubt that anything major will change, I admit that I'm looking forward to 2010, the first year that will not have the Bush administration in power for any days. Maybe the Omnibus Appropriations bill has me overly excited...

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants and is the author of Off the Beaten (Subway) Track.


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