Thursday, November 27, 2008

The latest installment of Doonesbury with the Sarah Palin Action Doll

This is the one from Nov. 26, 2008.

View others here. Does making it an "action" doll keep it from being sexist? And where is the "action" anyway? I just learned about this series and am catching up on it, but I'm not sure what the Palin doll does . . . .

Monday, November 24, 2008

Advice pours in for Michelle Obama

According to Rachel Swarns' story in the New York Times, the advice is coming from around the world, including some from Cherie Blair, who proffered hers in her regular column for The Times (London). Like French President Nicolas Sarkozy's wife, Carla Bruni, Blair continued to work while her husband was the leader of the United Kingdom. (Of course, they have very different careers: Blair is a senior barrister; Bruni is a singer). Blair wrote in her column:

You have to learn to take the back seat, not just in public, but in private . . . . When your spouse is late to put the kids to bed, or for dinner, or your plans for the weekend are turned upside down again, you simply have to accept that he had something more important to do. * * * It is something of an irony that in these days of pushing for equality those of us married to our political leaders have to put their own ambitions on hold while their spouses are in office and keep their views to themselves. I, at least, had my career. That is not an option for Michelle Obama.

I have recently recalled here Hillary's 1992 adjustment to becoming first lady. Swarns' story informs us that Hillary is the only first lady prior to Michelle Obama to have an active career until shortly before her husband became President. The only other first lady to have an advanced degree was Laura Bush, and I believe that degree was in the rather lower profile subject of library science.

Also of great interest for purposes of our seminar on gender's role in the 2008 election is the observation that Michelle Obama became more popular (or at least more "celebrated" by the media) once she quit her job and fully embraced the role of "mom-in-chief."

Leslie Morgan Steiner, editor of “Mommy Wars,” an anthology of essays (Random House, 2006), argued on the NPR program “Tell Me More” that Mrs. Obama had been “put in a box” and was only celebrated in the news media after she decided “to put her family first.”

In the online magazine Salon, Rebecca Traister bemoaned what she described as the “momification of Michelle Obama,” criticizing the news media’s focus on Mrs. Obama’s search for schools for her two young daughters, her fashion sense and her pledge that her No. 1 job is “to be Mom.”

Traister laments the lack of "curiosity about how Michelle will adjust to the loss of her own private, very successful, very high-profile and very independent identity." Leaving work that one enjoys is a huge adjustment, and Ms. Obama's last job was a $300K/year Vice Presidency at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Nevertheless, as one commentator points out, unlike most women who leave work to be a trailing spouse, Ms. Obama's career won't suffer long-term consequences. She will be highly sought after for law firm partnerships and other roles as soon as his Presidency ends.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Steinem on HRC and Palin

Gloria Steinem wrote a couple of high profile op-ed pieces over the course of the election. Here are excerpts from two -- one about HRC and one about Sarah Palin.

This appeared on January 8, 2008, after Hillary lost Iowa and before she won New Hampshire. It was titled, "Women are Never Front-runners," and it cleverly juxtaposed female gender with some of Obama's biographical details to make the point that Obama's credentials might be subject to greater scrutiny and skepticism were he a woman. Here are the first few paragraphs:

THE woman in question became a lawyer after some years as a community organizer, married a corporate lawyer and is the mother of two little girls, ages 9 and 6. Herself the daughter of a white American mother and a black African father — in this race-conscious country, she is considered black — she served as a state legislator for eight years, and became an inspirational voice for national unity.

Be honest: Do you think this is the biography of someone who could be elected to the United States Senate?

Steinem says that if you answered "no," you are hardly alone. She goes on to call gender "probably the most restricting force in American life." She notes a study which found that the United States "polarizes gender roles more than the average democracy."

The second Steinem piece appeared in the Los Angeles Times after Sarah Palin was chosen as McCain's running mate. It is titled "Wrong woman, wrong message." After labeling John McCain the "real culprit," Steinem argues that he chose Palin to curry favor with "right-wing ideologues." She continues:
Palin's value to those patriarchs is clear: She opposes just about every issue that women support by a majority or plurality. She believes that creationism should be taught in public schools but disbelieves global warming; she opposes gun control but supports government control of women's wombs; she opposes stem cell research but approves "abstinence-only" programs, which increase unwanted births, sexually transmitted diseases and abortions . . .
Gloria Steinem, long-time editor of Ms. magazine, is a so-called second-generation feminist who is famous for saying, "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." Do you see any inconsistencies in the positions she takes in these two editorials?

Barack Obama as parent: Obsession with the Obama girls and a family's personal transition

We've just learned that the Obama girls, Malia (10) and Sasha (7), will attend Sidwell Friends School when they move to Washington, DC, and take up residence in the White House in the coming weeks. Read the story here. This news came after what I found to be a nauseating amount of news attention to the fact that all of the prestigious DC schools were courting the Obama girls. See Rachel Swarns story from the NYT Style pages here. Indeed, interest in Michelle, the girls, and -- of course--the rock star himself, seems to be reaching a fever pitch, which is understandable, I suppose.

I feel sorry for their loss of privacy as they make this transition and we know that their lives will never again be the same. A recent NYT story by Peter Baker takes up this topic:
Life for the newly chosen president and his family has changed forever. Even the constraints and security of the campaign trail do not compare to the bubble that has enveloped him in the 10 days since his election. Renegade, as the Secret Service calls him, now lives within the strict limits that come with the most powerful office on the planet.
A photo accompanying the story shows the Obama girls getting out of an SUV, backpacks in hand, under the watchful eye of the Secret Service. President-Elect Obama is not pictured, but the caption suggests he is in the SUV and involved in dropping the girls off for school.

You can read another report on the Obama family's transition, by Jodi Kantor, here.

Sasha and Malia are the youngest children since John and Caroline Kennedy to have been raised in the White House. Chelsea Clinton, who also attended Sidwell Friends, was a young teen when Bill Clinton became President in 1992. So, it will be interesting to see how Mr. Obama is depicted as father in the coming weeks and months. I recall one voter during the primary season suggesting that, with young children at home, this was not the time for Obama to be seeking the Presidency. Indeed, with the economy falling apart at home (and abroad!) and two wars ongoing, the man is going to be seriously challenged to find time to stay involved with his children.

What women are saying about Hillary's new role

Don't miss Jodi Kantor's story in the New York Times here. I particularly like the parts that focus on being one's own boss versus working for, well, the most powerful man in the world. Of course the parts that speak to her power and influence, whichever role she chooses, are also very heartening. Here are some excerpts:
As [HRC] pondered this week whether to trade her hard-won independence and elected office for a job working for a more powerful man, mothers and schoolteachers and law partners mulled in tandem with her.

* * *

As news spread on Friday evening that Mrs. Clinton had decided to accept the job, so did a basic consensus: the assignment was probably a triumph for Mrs. Clinton, if a costly one.
This part about (some) women relating to HRC and her experiences as a professional woman really resonates with me. That is, I am definitely one of the women who relates, both to showing emotion in the workplace and to accumulated sexist slights!

Throughout Mrs. Clinton’s presidential run, women across the country saw in her a mirror of their own career fortunes: when she teared up just before the New Hampshire primary that she was expected to lose, they remembered their own workplace humiliations, and when she lost the Democratic nomination, many saw it as an accumulation of all-too-familiar sexist slights.

The story is well worth a read for the sense it conveys of Hillary's past, present and future. Kantor summarizes what she calls Clinton's "feminist triumph" by tracking where she's been. In short, the decade reflects the adage, "you've come a long way, baby." A decade ago, Hillary was a first lady whose hairstyles were fodder for comedians. Now, however, she is poised to become the "world's top diplomat." Plus, working for a President is a whole different ballgame than being married to one.

Kantor's report features lots of thought-provoking quotes. Gloria Steinem, who lauds Hillary's decision to take the Secretary of State job, is quoted as saying, “The question of whether one has one’s own political power or goes to work for someone else is not only a feminist question” I guess it may be "not only" a feminist question, but I think it certainly is a "feminist question." I guess I am unsure that anything about Hillary can, after all these years, not be a "feminist question."

I am heartened by Kantor's conclusion that Clinton "is such an esteemed figure, no one will see her as a mere emissary." Certainly, I am delighted for Hillary, though I would also have been pleased had she chosen to stay in the Senate and continue to work on health care reform.

As a related matter, I wrote this post last week on my feminist legal theory blog. It discusses Hillary's then-prospects to become Secretary of State, as well as changing perceptions of her over the years since Bill Clinton ran for President.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Have women really made gains in politics?

Well, Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York appear poised to accept cabinet positions in the Obama administration. See the news reports here and here. These appointments are certainly good news for women, but this will not be the first cabinet to include at least two women.

So, a headline from UC Davis news service today took me by surprise. It reads: "Women's Gains in Politics Not Seen in Board Rooms, CEO Offices," and you can read the full story here. The part that surprised me was that women are perceived as having made gains in politics, presumably recently. Really? Did the 2008 race for the President really change anything? We've had a woman as VP nominee before. We've had women run for President before, though none have come as close to the nomination as Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The lack of women in executive suites, on the other hand, is hardly news at all. Nevertheless, here are some highlights from the article, which features data from the recent UC Davis Study of California Women Business Leaders.
Half of California's 400 largest public companies have no women in top executive offices, according to a study reported today by University of California, Davis, researchers. Almost half do not have a woman on the board of directors. Nearly a third -- including household names McAfee, Quicksilver and Hansen Natural -- do not have a woman in either a top executive post or on the governing board.

The fourth annual UC Davis Study of California Women Business Leaders found that only 13 of California's 400 largest public companies have a woman CEO. Overall, women hold just 10.9 percent of board seats and executive positions -- insignificant progress from 2007, when the figure was 10.4 percent, and from 2006 and 2005, when it was 10.2 percent.

"Time and time again, studies prove that businesses with women in leadership positions thrive. In our current economic situation, California's companies can't afford to ignore the talents of women," said Rosario Marin, secretary of the California State and Consumer Services Agency and a former U.S. treasurer. "It's time to stop focusing on our women leaders' pantsuits or hairstyles and start placing value on how these women are making their companies more efficient and effective -- and get that leadership in place at companies across our state."