Reuters: Scout, Jean Louise, and white women in the world of Harper Lee

Reuters: Scout, Jean Louise, and white women in the world of Harper Lee

My latest at Reuters is about Harper Lee’s new novel Go Set A Watchman, and about what the book can teach us about white womanhood and racism:

Released not even a month after a white supremacist entered a black church in Charleston, South Carolina and declared, before opening fire and killing nine black people, “You rape our women,” Go Set A Watchman is also remarkably — depressingly — timely.

When Dylann Roof’s words were reported, my mind flew to the fictional Maycomb, Alabama, where Scout Finch grows up, and where, in Mockingbird, she watches as her father tries and fails to defend a black man who is framed and sentenced for the rape of a white woman. The woman in question, Mayella Ewell, has led a life of poverty and sexual abuse at the hands of her father, and she’s to be pitied, Atticus tells the jury in his closing arguments. But not to the extent of killing an innocent man, Tom Robinson, to protect her reputation. “I’m in favor of Southern womanhood as much as anybody,” Atticus has told his sister, “but not for preserving polite fiction at the expense of human life.”

The polite fiction is that white women feel no sexual desire toward black men, and that white men never molest their daughters. That proper women in Maycomb are, in the words of the anti-segregation speaker who addresses the local Citizen’s Council meeting in Watchman, “fresh white Southern virgins” in need of protection — violent protection, if need be — from black men by white men. In the antebellum South, during Reconstruction, and under Jim Crow, the polite fiction was used to justify the murder of black men and the terrorizing of black communities. It was believed by white men, and deployed by white women: at the end of the rape trial in Mockingbird, Scout realizes that “Tom Robinson was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.”

You can read the whole thing here.

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Reuters: Hillary Clinton and the double whammy of sexism and ageism

Reuters: Hillary Clinton and the double whammy of sexism and ageism

My latest at Reuters is about how Hillary Clinton is up against sexism and ageism as she runs a second time for the presidency:

Simply put, Clinton is living proof of how sexism and ageism interact: when it comes to leadership positions, women always seem to be held to a higher standard than men, and by the time they’ve accumulated the experience to meet that standard, they’re old enough to be hit with age discrimination. That Clinton is running at 67 is one high-profile example of how long it seems to take women to amass the experience necessary for people — whether it’s voters or employers — to overlook the fact that they’re women. We know this about ourselves: in January, a Pew survey found that 65 percent of people recognize that, in business, women are held to a higher standard than men.

Clinton is far and away the most qualified person to enter the race so far. Between her legal and advocacy experience; her time in the White House as the most politically active first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt; her time as a senator; and her service as Secretary of State, she has amassed more relevant experience and knowledge than a number of the current Republican candidates combined. Detractors can reasonably question her judgment, her trustworthiness, her husband and her emails, but her qualifications are indisputable. Her resume is undeniably presidential.

None of which protects her from being subjected to what Catalyst, a research and advocacy group focused on normalizing gender and race representation in corporate leadership, calls the High Competence Threshold. “Women leaders face higher standards and lower rewards than male leaders,” Catalyst found in its 2007 study The Double Bind Dilemma for Women in Leadership. “On top of doing their job, women must prove that they can lead over and over again,” the study found.

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: Racism is a reproductive rights issue

Reuters: Racism is a reproductive rights issue

My column at Reuters last week was about what happens when we deny Black children a childhood: we deny Black parent their reproductive rights.

Generally speaking, Americans understand reproductive rights as being about abortion, and sometimes, about birth control. In the mainstream understanding, reproductive rights are about the right to prevent or end unwanted pregnancy. But reproductive rights are about more than pregnancy. Reproductive justice is not just a matter of making sure that women only become mothers if and when and in the manner they choose – it’s also a matter of making sure that, when they choose to bring children into the world, they don’t bring them into a world that is disproportionately dangerous for those children.

In short, racism is a reproductive rights issue.

“For one’s children to be random, unwitting blood sacrifices to the prejudice of faceless others is not freedom,” wrote Katherine Cross at RH Reality Check, in the wake of Michael Brown’s death at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. “To have reproductive freedom means, among many other things, that your choice to raise a family will not be revenged upon by collectivized prejudice wielding batons and handguns.”

This is not a new argument, but it’s one that has been denied the mainstream attention it deserves. In the wake of the Grand Jury decision that Wilson will not be indicted for killing Brown, that is changing. NARAL Prochoice America, one of the nation’s largest reproductive rights organizations, is on the record endorsing the argument that, “You deserve to parent your child without fear that he or she will be hurt or killed. Freedom from violence is reproductive justice.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: Gender, sex, power, and stillettos

Reuters: Gender, sex, power, and stillettos

I have a piece at Reuters today, about how wearing high heels can affect other people’s behaviour toward a woman – and what that finding tells us about gender, sex, power, and attraction:

A new study out of France’s Université de Bretagne-Sud in finds that men are more likely to lend a helping hand to a woman wearing high heels. In the study, social psychologist Nicolas Guéguen found that men were more likely to answer survey questions if the woman asking them was wearing heels than if she was wearing flats. Similarly, Guéguen (who has also tackled the research question of whether carrying a guitar case makes a man more likely to succeed in getting a woman’s phone number) found that men were more likely to help a woman pick up a dropped glove if she was wearing heels.

That high heels change how straight men respond to women is hardly surprising. After all, high heels change the way you walk, the way you stand, and the way your clothes fit your body. As a culture, we have decided that the alterations heels produce in how women carry themselves are desirable, a decision we’ve stuck to for over 50 years. In recent years, the trend pendulum in high heels has swung toward atmospherically high, with platforms and hyper-narrow stiletto heels giving way, recently, to 1990s-nostalgia in the form of chunkier heels. These are, in the grand scheme of things, relatively minor variations; our cultural penchant for high heels is entrenched, and it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.

Some have questioned this study’s methodology, and not without reason, but its findings raise some interesting questions. Are men more likely to respond to women in heels because they find them more attractive, and are they more likely to answer survey questions from or help an attractive woman? Or are the men who help a woman in heels pick up her glove correctly perceiving that a woman in heels is in fact, physically, less stable than a woman in flats, and might therefore be more likely to need their help? Or, more interestingly still — and more troublingly — does a woman’s perceived instability and vulnerability make her more physically attractive to some men?

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: Eminem’s Taylor-induced temper tantrum

Reuters: Eminem’s Taylor-induced temper tantrum

My latest at Reuters is about Eminem’s newest lyrical outburst, a rap in which he fantasizes about beating a young pop star until she’s unconscious:

I can’t get inside Eminem’s head – and I’m quite sure I wouldn’t want to, given the chance – but I suspect that his outburst against Del Rey had little to do with Del Rey herself, despite its specificity.

The real reason may be his fear that time has passed him by, and the very group he has so-often victimized in his lyrics — young women — seem to be running circles around him.

Exhibit A?

Taylor Swift, the 24-year-old phenom who is arguably the biggest pop star in the world right now (fret not, BeyHive, I’m sure your queen will reclaim her crown soon) released her fifth album, “1989,” in late October after months of buildup and publicity. The hype was justified: 1989 is a great album, and it’s been hailed as such by everyone from NPR’s music critic to current king of rap Kendrick Lamar.

It’s also a record-breaking album: It sold more than 1 million copies in the first week of release. The last time that happened was more than a decade ago. To be precise, it was in 2002. And the album in question? Eminem’s “The Eminem Show.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: Is Hillary Clinton the cure for political apathy?

Reuters: Is Hillary Clinton the cure for political apathy?

At Reuters today, I have a column about how Hillary Clinton’s run for the Presidency might shift American political apathy – especially for American women:

While the scale of American political apathy, especially among women, is high, a Clinton win could go a long way to closing the gender gap in political engagement.

There is a downside, however.

Women’s participation in politics is often followed by a political and cultural backlash. We got a taste of that during Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential run in 2008. The sexist tone of the commentary about Clinton that year has been catalogued many times: detractors and supporters alike discussed her hair, her wrinkles, her laugh, her clothing, her emotions, her husband. Anything, it felt like, but her policies and capacity to lead.

So, to what extent are gains made by female politicians negated by bias in the coverage about them? That remains to be seen. And, who knows, perhaps a nasty backlash is just what it takes to galvanize the politically aloof to be more involved. That certainly has been the case in previous cases of high-profile sexism at home and abroad.

And, speaking of unintended consequences of a Hillary campaign, one might be that it could actually increase political apathy– among men.

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: Real women belong on a pedestal in New York’s Central Park

Reuters: Real women belong on a pedestal in New York’s Central Park

I have a piece at Reuters today, about the fact that, in Central Park, there are no statues celebrating women’s contributions to history – and the effort to fix that:

There are 50 statues in New York’s Central Park, one of the world’s most visited spots. Not one of them is of a woman who exists outside of fiction.

There are marble monuments to dozens of men, most of them real, but not a single statue commemorating the life or contributions of a real-life woman. Even the fictional female characters – Alice in Wonderland, Juliet Capulet and Mother Goose – were created by men.

Among the marble and bronze population of Central Park, you’ll find Shakespeare and Beethoven, Simón Bolívar and Alexander Hamilton. You’ll even find Balto, the hero sled dog who delivered diphtheria medicine to the town of Nome, Alaska, in 1925.

To be clear: you can find a statue of a real-life dog, but no statues of real-life women.

This is not simply a Central Park problem, nor is it a New York City problem. Across the United States, women are staggeringly underrepresented in our tangible and visible efforts to mark significant moments and people in American history. Nationwide, fewer than 8 percent  of the public outdoor statues commemorating individuals are of women. Of the 100 outstanding citizens memorialized in Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building in Washington, only nine are women.

Central Park, however, stands out above the rest. It sits at the center of the city that considers itself the center of the world and that attracts 40 million tourists every year. The absence of women is glaring and, frankly, embarrassing.

You can read the whole thing here.