Suffragette reminds us why it’s a lie that feminists need men’s approval

From The Guardian UK:

A century on from the British suffrage campaign, feminists are still told that being pleasing is the best strategy for their success – and it’s still not true

Michelle Smith
Monday 28 December 2015

The new film Suffragette, released in Australia on Boxing Day, begins with female activists smashing London shop windows and bombing the partially completed home of the chancellor of the exchequer. It dramatises the militant actions of feminists from 1905 until the outbreak of the first world war, as they sought the right for British women to vote.

Edwardian women appear genteel in photographs, but the tactics of the suffragettes transgressed feminine expectations of the era. Suffragettes disrupted debate in parliament and struggled with police in violent marches. One famously slashed a painting of a naked woman in the National Gallery and another even came at Winston Churchill on a train platform with a riding whip.

With England more than a decade behind New Zealand, which had granted women’s suffrage in 1893, it was clear that polite and reasoned requests for women’s political rights had not worked. Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the suffrage movement, explained that unruly activism was essential:

If the general public were pleased with what we are doing, that would be a proof that our warfare is ineffective. We don’t intend that you should be pleased.

Despite the sustained campaign, full suffrage for women was not achieved until 1928. More than a century on from the British suffrage campaign, the message that being pleasing is not the optimal route to political and social change remains just as pertinent.

Increasingly men are informing feminists that they would be more successful if they made their politics more palatable. The UN’s HeforShe campaign, launched by the unthreatening Emma Watson, is often heralded as a positive way to involve men in work toward gender equality.

Both the idea that feminism needs to be appealing to men and that men should be central to its progress are anti-feminist ideas in themselves.

Regardless of their approach, feminists have always been characterised unfavourably for their social goals, looks, and refusal to defer to men.

Mocking cartoons of suffragettes showed them beating men to the ground with umbrellas or standing over their husbands and forcing them to clean the house. These caricatures took issue with the way that women’s demands for the vote seemed to be upending the natural order in which men were physically dominant and women were best suited to domestic work. Others lampooned the unattractiveness of suffragettes: they were drawn as old, dowdy and either lacking in teeth or suffering from pronounced overbites.

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For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions

From The New York Times:

The very richest are able to quietly shape tax policy that will allow them to shield billions in income.

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Only in America: Four years into life, poor kids are already an entire year behind

From The Washington Post:

December 17, 2015

Wealthy parents aren’t just able to send their kids to top pre-schools—they can also purchase the latest learning technology and ensure their children experience as many museums, concerts and other cultural experiences as possible. Low-income parents, on the other hand, don’t have that opportunity. Instead, they’re often left to face the reality of sending their kids to schools without having had the chance to provide an edifying experience at home.

That might sound foreboding if not hyperbolic, but it’s a serious and widespread problem in the United States, where poor kids enter school already a year behind the kids of wealthier parents. That deficit is among the largest in the developed world, and it can be extraordinarily difficult to narrow later in life.

This is one of the key takeaways from a new book about how United States is failing its children. The book, called Too Many Children Left Behind, is written by Columbia University professor Jane Waldfogel, a long-time researcher of poverty and inequality. And it will force almost anyone to reflect on the impact of unchecked inequality on children.

Waldfogel says the massive achievement gap in the United States is a blemish for a country that aspires to be the greatest in the world. In her book, she shows that achievement gap is pronounced to a startling degree in the first years of life.

I spoke with Waldfogel to learn more about how the early years of a child’s life can impact the rest of it, what role school plays in perpetuating inequality, and why the United States isn’t doing a great job of creating an equal playing field for its children. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Merry Christmas

Your Holiday Guide to Dealing with Uncle Bob

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The Revolt of the Anxious Class

From Robert Reich:

Robert Reich
Monday, December 14, 2015

The great American middle class has become an anxious class – and it’s in revolt.

Before I explain how that revolt is playing out, you need to understand the sources of the anxiety.

Start with the fact that the middle class is shrinking, according to a new Pew survey.

The odds of falling into poverty are frighteningly high, especially for the majority without college degrees.

Two-thirds of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Most could lose their jobs at any time.

Many are part of a burgeoning “on-demand” workforce – employed as needed, paid whatever they can get whenever they can get it.

Yet if they don’t keep up with rent or mortgage payments, or can’t pay for groceries or utilities, they’ll lose their footing.

The stress is taking a toll. For the first time in history, the lifespans of middle-class whites are dropping.

According to research by the recent Nobel-prize winning economist, Angus Deaton, and his co-researcher Anne Case, middle-aged white men and women in the United States have been dying earlier.

They’re poisoning themselves with drugs and alcohol, or committing suicide.

The odds of being gunned down in America by a jihadist are far smaller than the odds of such self-inflicted deaths, but the recent tragedy in San Bernadino only heightens an overwhelming sense of arbitrariness and fragility.

The anxious class feels vulnerable to forces over which they have no control. Terrible things happen for no reason.

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Class Differences in Child-Rearing Are on the Rise

What the books and movies called Hunger Games are really about.  What happens when you have a privileged elite running the world and an under class.

From The New York Times:

Dec. 17, 2015

The lives of children from rich and poor American families look more different than ever before.

Well-off families are ruled by calendars, with children enrolled in ballet, soccer and after-school programs, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. There are usually two parents, who spend a lot of time reading to children and worrying about their anxiety levels and hectic schedules.

In poor families, however, children tend to spend their time at home or with extended family, the survey found. They are more likely to grow up in neighborhoods that their parents say aren’t great for raising children, and their parents worry about them getting shot, beaten up or in trouble with the law.

The class differences in child rearing are growing, researchers say — a symptom of widening inequality with far-reaching consequences. Different upbringings set children on different paths and can deepen socioeconomic divisions, especially because education is strongly linked to earnings. Children grow up learning the skills to succeed in their socioeconomic stratum, but not necessarily others.

“Early childhood experiences can be very consequential for children’s long-term social, emotional and cognitive development,” said Sean F. Reardon, professor of poverty and inequality in education at Stanford University. “And because those influence educational success and later earnings, early childhood experiences cast a lifelong shadow.”

The cycle continues: Poorer parents have less time and fewer resources to invest in their children, which can leave children less prepared for school and work, which leads to lower earnings.

American parents want similar things for their children, the Pew report and past research have found: for them to be healthy and happy, honest and ethical, caring and compassionate. There is no best parenting style or philosophy, researchers say, and across income groups, 92 percent of parents say they are doing a good job at raising their children.

Yet they are doing it quite differently.

Middle-class and higher-income parents see their children as projects in need of careful cultivation, says Annette Lareau, whose groundbreaking research on the topic was published in her book “Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race and Family Life.” They try to develop their skills through close supervision and organized activities, and teach children to question authority figures and navigate elite institutions.

Working-class parents, meanwhile, believe their children will naturally thrive, and give them far greater independence and time for free play. They are taught to be compliant and deferential to adults.

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The Hunger Games world is no country for glamorous women

Being a woman isn’t about embracing a social role or gender, gender, gender.  It is about being an adult female bodied person or being assumed to be an adult female bodied person.

Glamour is the stuff of the elite and overly privileged.  Hunger Games allegorically shows how the elites of the world treat the masses.  The working people do the menial work and fight the wars, the privileged bask in their glamour. You don’t have to be a Marxist or Tea Party prole to see that one.

From The Guardian UK:

Despite its female hero, The Hunger Games constantly depicts the conventional trappings of femininity as decadent, weak and dangerous.

November 30, 2015

In The Hunger Games, the Capitol is the luxurious seat of evil. While the drab working class in the districts toil in poverty and filth and boring clothes, Capitol citizens stroll about in pampered splendour. President Snow raises white perfumed roses. His populace is decked out in gaudily colored costumes, preposterous coiffures and elaborately styled facial hair. The upper-class, in short, is decadent – and decadence, in both Suzanne Collins’ books and the films, means flamboyant femininity.

Disgust with, and hatred of femininity is often linked to hatred of women – as in the uber-masculine James Bond novels, with their casual disdain for the disposable sex objects who cross the hero’s path.

The Hunger Games doesn’t hate women, though. Its hero is a woman. But, as a woman, she is a hero precisely because she rejects the traditional roles of femininity. At home in District 12, Katniss wears utilitarian, drab clothing. After her father dies, she steps into his role as provider and hunter, leaving the confines of the domestic village for adventures in the woods. When her sister is threatened, Katniss does the stereotypical manly, heroic thing. You could certainly say her feelings for her sister are maternal, but she expresses them most dramatically through being iconically paternal – by going into battle to protect her family.

The Hunger Games does put Katniss in female roles with some regularity – but it invariably does so to emphasize those roles’ artificiality, and her distance and discomfort with them. She wears a series of striking, literally incendiary dresses, which in the films emphasise Jennifer Lawrence’s considerable glamour. But, while Katniss admires these dresses (and shares a bond of deep affection with designer Cinna), she’s wearing them because she has to, not because she wants to. She has to dress up first in order to win sponsors to help her during the Hunger Games battle, and then to inspire the resistance against the capital. The dresses are a performance. They function as a kind of drag, not an expression of her own gender identity or choices.

Similarly, Katniss’s romance plot is presented as a front. She and Peeta pretend to be in love for the cameras to, again, woo sponsors and to assure President Snow that their main interest is true love, not rebellion. The wedding preparations are an elaborate ruse, which underlines Katniss’s distance from the traditional feminine romance narrative. She doesn’t want marriage and happily ever after; she is not that feminine archetype. If she could, she would head for the woods.

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ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape

From The New York Times:

Claiming the Quran’s support, the Islamic State codifies sex slavery in
conquered regions of Iraq and Syria and uses the practice as a recruiting tool.

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‘Women’s Studies’ is Betraying Women under Sharia Law

From The Middle East Forum:

by Phyllis Chesler
December 7, 2015

Last week, the National Women’s Studies Association membership voted to boycott Israel. The resolution reads, in part: “As feminist scholars, activists, teachers, and public intellectuals . . . we cannot overlook injustice and violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, perpetrated against Palestinians and other Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, within Israel and in the Golan Heights, as well as the colonial displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba.”

This vote is an utter betrayal of both reality and of women — especially women who live under Sharia law.

In 1970, I taught one of the first Women’s Studies courses in the country. What I had envisioned for the discipline has nothing to do with today’s anti-American, anti-Israel, post-colonial, faux-scholarly feminist academy.

Marxism triumphed among radical feminists—and then they became “Palestinianized.” Women’s Studies professors are less concerned with the “occupation” of women’s bodies world-wide than they are with the alleged occupation of a country that has never existed: “Palestine.”

So I wasn’t surprised that the association held a plenary panel last year on that crucial feminist issue: “The Imperial Politics of Nation-States: US, Israel, and Palestine.” Panelists included former communist Angela Davis, the recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize; Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of the infamous anti-Israel Jewish Voice for Peace; and Dr. Islah Jad of Birzeit University, whose focus seems to be Palestinian women only.

They vowed to get the association to boycott Israel. Now they’ve succeeded.

But these “Feminists for Palestine” are in denial about Islam’s long and ugly history of imperialism, colonialism, gender and religious apartheid, anti-black racism, conversion via the sword, executions of apostates and slavery.

The association doesn’t condemn, for example, the atrocities being practiced by Hamas, ISIS, Boko Haram and the Taliban against Muslim women, children and dissidents and against Christian, Yazidi and Kurdish women whom ISIS has captured as sex slaves.

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A welcome blow to the myth of distinct male and female brains

From New Scientist:

A major study that undermines the damaging idea that male and female brains are fundamentally different could be a game-changer

Gina Rippon
30 November 2015

One of the biggest barriers to equality is crumbling, thanks to a study that blows away the misconception that male and female brains are distinct.

Based on detailed and careful analysis of core features seen in scans of more than 1400 female and male human brains, Israeli researcher Daphna Joel and colleagues demonstrated that most are unique mixes or “mosaics” of features previously thought to be either “male” or “female”. A brain that is not a mix was found to be extremely rare.

The result is a major challenge to the entrenched misconceptions typified by the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” hokum. My hope is it will be a game-changer for the 21st century.

Crucially, it means the power of neuroimaging to explore and explain the links between brain and behaviour can at last come into its own, freed from the constraints of preconceived stereotypes. Our understanding of sex-related brain differences will move beyond simple and outdated dichotomous thinking.

Knowing the controversy associated with such declarations, the authors have been very careful to use a range of different datasets from different laboratories and to investigate the veracity of their findings using more than a single neuroimaging measure.

Their paper adds to similar discussions in neuroscience, as well as to the canon of recent research findings that previously “well-established” sex differences in brain structures turn out to be false when careful analytical techniques are applied.

And it gels with the broader idea that the biology of sex differences is not what we thought. A news feature in Nature last year proclaimed: “Sex redefined: the idea of two sexes is simplistic”, reporting data showing that, even in the most fundamental aspects of sexual differentiation, including chromosomes, cells and genital anatomy, thinking in simple male/female terms is no longer tenable.

What’s more, for several years, psychologists have been saying that, in terms of cognitive skills and personality characteristics, the “two” sexes are much more similar than different. Just knowing whether someone is male or female is a very poor predictor of almost any kind of behaviour.

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What I Learned on My Red State Book Tour

From Robert Reich:

Robert Reich
Sunday, November 8, 2015

I’ve just returned from three weeks in “red” America.

It was ostensibly a book tour but I wanted to talk with conservative Republicans and Tea Partiers.

I intended to put into practice what I tell my students – that the best way to learn is to talk with people who disagree you. I wanted to learn from red America, and hoped they’d also learn a bit from me (and perhaps also buy my book).

But something odd happened. It turned out that many of the conservative Republicans and Tea Partiers I met agreed with much of what I had to say, and I agreed with them.

For example, most condemned what they called “crony capitalism,” by which they mean big corporations getting sweetheart deals from the government because of lobbying and campaign contributions.

I met with group of small farmers in Missouri who were livid about growth of “factory farms” owned and run by big corporations, that abused land and cattle, damaged the environment, and ultimately harmed consumers.

They claimed giant food processors were using their monopoly power to squeeze the farmers dry, and the government was doing squat about it because of Big Agriculture’s money.

I met in Cincinnati with Republican small-business owners who are still hurting from the bursting of the housing bubble and the bailout of Wall Street.

“Why didn’t underwater homeowners get any help?” one of them asked rhetorically. “Because Wall Street has all the power.” Others nodded in agreement.

Whenever I suggested that big Wall Street banks be busted up – “any bank that’s too big to fail is too big, period” – I got loud applause.

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