Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Can Women Have it All: Bridging the Public and Private Spheres

Former State Department official, Anne-Marie Slaughter has swept headlines and conversations with her recent piece in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”  Reactions have been published in Salon.com, The New York Times, Forbes and feminist blogs across the country.  I find the piece particularly fascinating for the way it challenges our traditional definitions of "equality" and progress for women.

In the piece, Slaughter destroys the popular myth that women today can “have it all”-- meaning, simultaneously successful careers and families-- without significant changes in our social and economic structure that would allow a healthy work-life balance for women and their families.  Yet, often women, themselves, are responsible for perpetuating the “myth” that this work-life balance is achievable.

It is easy to understand why women would continue this fiction.  We constantly urge that women can do everything as well as men-- that, given the opportunity, women have every ability to be as successful as their male counterparts.  

What is ignored, however, is that the cost of achieving this is often one’s personal and family life.  Our current society is structured so that there is a tradeoff-- you are either a good professional or a good parent.  As Slaughter states,

Male leaders are routinely praised for having sacrificed their personal life on the altar of public or corporate service. That sacrifice, of course, typically involves their family....It is clear which set of choices society values more today. Workers who put their careers first are typically rewarded; workers who choose their families are overlooked, disbelieved, or accused of unprofessionalism.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Happy Father's Day Weekend!!

One of my favorite essays is Lisa Bloom's "How to Talk to Little Girls."  In it, she describes the propensity for people to speak to little girls only about physical beauty (You're so pretty!  Isn't that a cute dress?) at the expense of encouraging their intellectual development.   She articulates the problem:

Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What's missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.

Women have made enormous progress over the last century.  Yet, many women still do not perceive themselves as worthy enough to take the opportunities presented to them.  This is a cultural problem that begins not only with how we talk to girls, but how we raise girls altogether.

When I think about this subject, I invariably reflect upon the way that I was brought up.  I am blessed to have been raised with a healthy level of self-worth, and much of that is due to my father (who, incidentally, is my #1 blog reader).  

In honor of Father’s Day, therefore, I want to reveal the AWESOME things my dad did to make me an independent, kick-ass-take-names-kind-of-woman:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Where-Oh-Where Did the Working Class Go?

Regarding the gubernatorial re-call election last week, many expressed shock that Wisconsin's working class did not overwhelmingly oppose Governor Scott "Unions-Are-the-Plague-of-the-Earth" Walker.  The man who once described collective bargaining as an "expensive entitlement" walked away last Tuesday with 38% of the working class vote, and 61% of the white working-class vote.  To me, these numbers do not demonstrate that the labor movement has drastically changed its agenda, but rather signify the decline of the working class as a unified political identity, altogether.

There are several explanations for this trend.  Psychology professor, Jonathan Haidt, proposes that economic interest is not the unifying force in electoral decision-making that people assume.  In his research into political decision-making, Haidt found that “When working-class people vote conservative, as most do in the US, they are not voting against their self-interest; they are voting for their moral interest.” Contrary to popular opinion, he explained, people vote in accordance with their moral value-systems rather than  economic interest.  While liberals are more concerned with “care,” as a moral value (thus often advancing policy related to social welfare), conservatives tend to value more respect for authority, group loyalty, and sanctity.  Haidt suggests that in the wake of the financial crisis and looming uncertainty, American citizens are more likely to vote for the order and national cohesion that conservative values and candidates offer.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

(S)He Works Hard for the Money

Men are increasingly entering traditionally female-dominated professions, according to recent analysis. Shaila Dewan and Robert Gebeloff reveal that

An analysis of census data by The New York Times shows that from 2000 to 2010, occupations that are more than 70 percent female accounted for almost a third of all job growth for men, double the share of the previous decade.

Dewan and Gebeloff offer a variety of plausible explanations for this trend, including “financial concerns, quality-of-life issues, and a gradual erosion of stereotypes.” They hypothesize that the stigma of entering female-dominated professions is lessoning, while, at the same time, the stability of female dominated professions compared to male-dominated professions is increasingly attractive in the current economy.

Whatever the reason, I believe this trend has interesting implications for not only the gender segregation of labor, but the value of such labor.

Since the rise of wage-labor during the Industrial Revolution, women's labor has consistently been devalued relative to men's labor.* This was the subject of my first blog post, in which I argued that the “caring professions,” including nursing, teaching, and social work, are specifically devalued due to being female-dominated professions.

The introduction of men into the “pink collar” professions may change all this. With more men entering these professions, it is possible that the segregation of labor may slowly begin to erode. Consequently, as both men and women are represented proportionally in various professions, the formerly-female-dominated jobs will no longer be stigmatized as “female,” and will presumably demand a more equitable salary based on merit, rather than gender.

This is a promising idea, but it also troubles me for several reasons:

Friday, June 1, 2012

Is Class Size a Big Deal? Depends on who you ask...

As part of a broader plan to discuss his education policy with the nation (and to shore up the African-American vote, no doubt), Mitt Romney toured a West Philadelphia charter school and spoke at a round table with teachers and educational leaders last week. Our Republican presidential nominee took the opportunity to tout his educational reform mantra of parental choice, introducing plans for voucher program that would use federal money to allow students to attend various well-performing public, charter, and private schools.

Expounding upon his platform, Romney revealed that he does not consider class size to be a determining factor in student performance. Rather, in line with his anti-teacher-union strategy, Romney argued that the push to decrease class size is merely a wasteful union ploy to hire more teachers.

While urban teachers everywhere, whose intuition screams that this is false, pick their jaws off the floor, I will concede two things that lend credence to the Republican nominee: First, Romney's argument is logical, though fundamentally incorrect. Secondly, Romney does cite specific scientific studies that support his conclusion that class size has minimal effect on student achievement.

On a personal level, even this is is hard to admit. In my own experience as a teacher, I found classroom size to be critical to classroom success. This principle was eloquently articulated by Erin Thesing, who teaches at another West Philadelphia charter school, on the Obama-Biden blog this week. Thesing reasoned that “at the end of the day, smaller class sizes mean that there is more time for small groups or individualized instruction, and that is game changing for learning.”

However, putting this “anecdotal” evidence aside, numerous studies, including that which Romney cited, conclude the exact opposite: that class size does not play an important part in student achievement. Plenty of classrooms across the globe have classroom sizes that rival those of the U.S., yet show academic progress at a much higher rate.

What is not recognized in these studies, however, is that the influence of class-size as a variable impacting student performance, is context-dependent. Whether or not class size plays a critical role is dependent upon the particular classroom, in a particular community, etc., etc.