Court Allows Wal-Mart to Get Away with it Again

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Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court did not find that Wal-Mart routinely discriminates against its female employees. That doesn’t mean that Wal-Mart is innocent. All it means is that the Court refused to hear the case. It seems that the 1.5 million plaintiffs in this class action suit have experiences that are too disparate and don’t show enough commonality to qualify for class action status.

Excuse me? Of course their experiences are disparate: you’re talking about 1.5 million women. And what could be more in common than the fact that they were discriminated against because they were all women?

This is the problem with proving sex discrimination in this country: it happens to women, one at a time, whenever a woman is passed over for a variety of types of promotions: better hours, more hours, positions of greater responsibility, higher pay. But the result is still the same: a woman is denied the opportunities that are routinely offered to men. And she can’t do a damn thing about it.

Because that’s the other thing about sex discrimination: it’s carefully packaged as something else. The discriminators don’t say that all women lack ambition or the requisite managerial skills and personality traits. They don’t say that women don’t work as hard or as long. Instead they pick out one reason and match it to one woman and voilà, it’s not discriminatory policy, it’s the manager’s “informed” opinion. And we all know that every manager is free of sexual bias.

Wal-Mart covers its ass by saying that its policy is equal employment opportunity for men and women, but then allowing its supervisors wide leeway in how they interpret that policy. All a supervisor has to do is show that he had a “valid” reason for promoting a man over a woman and the big wigs at Wal-Mart are satisfied that their non-discriminatory stance is being promoted. They don’t look over their supervisors’ shoulders or second-guess his decisions.

The Supreme Court therefore ruled that since a non-discrimination policy is in place at Wal-Mart, there is no case. Period. Any deviations from that policy are to be handled by Wal-Mart internally. Well, I’m sorry, but I thought the main reason a suit is brought against a company is to get them to do something they aren’t already doing.

The fact that the Court dismissed the complaints of 1.5 million women is an outrage. Does it think these women are delusional? That they all imagined that they were being discriminated against? Surely out of 1.5 million plaintiffs there was enough evidence to warrant hearing the case. Instead, the Justices who voted for dismissal said that there wasn’t enough evidence; only “about 1 [anecdote] for every 12,500 class members.” I’m sure the women could have come up with far more if they’d realized that the Justices were going to consider 120 anecdotes “insignificant.”

The most troubling aspect of this ruling is that it will undoubtedly make it even harder for class action suits to be successful in the future—especially when they’re filed against huge corporations. All the Justices have to say is that the company is too large to hold it responsible for the actions of all its managers.

The women filed a class action suit expressly because it would have been cost-prohibitive for each woman to file a suit against each manager. And why should they when it’s clear that Wal-Mart condones discriminatory practices by its managers by looking the other way?

Maybe we shouldn’t be blaming Wal-Mart for sexual discrimination in the workplace. Maybe it’s actually our society that should be on trial. Because Wal-Mart’s climate exists within a larger system. One in which comments like, “Everyone knows women don’t like to work long hours” are common.

One commenter said that Wal-Mart couldn’t be guilty of sex discrimination because if it was “why would it hire women at all if they’re such poor workers?” Apparently this idiot isn’t acquainted with the practice of hiring people for the “grunt work.” Who better for those positions than women who don’t care about getting ahead anyway?

[Source: New York Times]

Also check out Room for Debate: “A Death Blow for Class Action?

 

Watching What We Say: Is Name-Calling Ever Excusable?

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While Kobe Bryant was defending his use of the phrase “fucking fag” as something that should not be taken literally and that came out of the heat of the moment (the referee had just called a foul on him), volleyball fans in Brazil were dealing with a similar situation. During a semifinal match a couple of weeks ago, some of the fans started shouting, “Bicha! Bicha! Bicha!” at Michael, an allegedly gay player on the other team. (“Bicha” means “faggot.”)

Shocked by the blatant homophobia and in a show of support, Michael’s team and fans came up with a gigantic banner proclaiming that they are against prejudice, the teammates wore pink warm-up shirts and the crowd shook pink thundersticks with Michael’s name on them.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., more than half of those polled thought that Kobe Bryant’s $100,000 fine was unnecessary. His apology (such as it was) should be enough.

In my opinion, people who think that should apologize—for not being sensitive enough about the issue themselves.

There is no excuse for using a derogatory term as a swear word, whether it’s “faggot” or “pussy” or “nigger.” When you do that, what you’re really saying is that it’s a bad thing to be gay, female or black. It doesn’t even have to be directed at an actual homosexual, woman or black person. In fact, the intent is even more insulting when it isn’t, as in “He’s so queer” or “He throws like a girl.”

As far as I know, the referee Bryant got upset with isn’t gay, and yet Bryant apparently felt it a need to insult him by calling him a “fag.” What else could he have meant except that being homosexual is the lowest of the low?

[Or is it? The worst word I can think of, and I think most people would agree with me, is the “C” word. I won’t even write it, let alone say it. I think it’s significant that the worst epithet a person can sling at another person is a derogatory word for part of the female anatomy.]

There’s too much acceptance of name calling in this country. People make excuses for it by saying that they didn’t mean it to be derogatory, that it’s just a “figure of speech.” I don’t buy it. It’s not a figure of speech; on the contrary, words like “faggot” and “pussy” are loaded with meaning. It’s just that what they mean is hurtful. Words can hurt. They can even cause people to have breakdowns and commit suicide.

Not only that, but do we really want to teach our children that it’s okay to use such language? These were grown-ups who were calling out “Faggot! Faggot!” Because he’s an athlete, kids look up to Kobe Bryant as a role model.  Do we really think that there’s no correlation bullying among schoolchildren and the damaging words they hear adults using freely and in public?

[In a side note, actress Ashley Judd was criticized this past week for her opinion (which was stated in her recent memoir) that hip-hop music contributes to a “rape culture.”

“As far as I’m concerned, most rap and hip-hop music — with it’s rape culture and insanely abusive lyrics and depictions of girls and women as ‘ho’s’ — is the contemporary soundtrack of misogyny.”

Most of the criticism was about her singling out one kind of music for being misogynist when there are plenty of examples of “trash-talking” in other musical genres. But because of the controversy over her remarks, her basic message was lost, which is that the words we use do matter and they can have negative consequences.]

Personally, I think Kobe Bryant got off easy. And I’m disappointed that more Americans don’t agree with me. But then what do I expect in this country? Pink warm-up shirts and thundersticks?

 

 

 

 

Co-ed Wrestling: Feminism Gone Wrong?

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Here’s the scenario:

It’s the Iowa state wrestling tournament and Joel Northrup and Cassy Herkelman are supposed to compete in a wrestling match. Except the match doesn’t happen, because Northrup defaults to Herkelman on the grounds that he can’t/won’t wrestle her because of his religious faith.

Perhaps Northrup is sincere, but the whole thing smacks of sexism. After all, Northrup knew going in that he might have to wrestle a girl at some point in his high school wrestling career: Iowa’s wrestling teams have been coed for two decades. It’s just that it’s not often that a girl makes the cut all the way up to the state championship. (In fact, Herkelman and Megan Black are the only two girls who have made it so far.)

Secondly, I’d be really surprised if Northrup’s religious upbringing didn’t teach him that homosexuality is a sin, in which case you’d think that he would object to wrestling a homosexual as well.  (Shades of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military.) But supposedly that’s not the same thing. It’s all right for guys to pit their brute strength against each other (even if one is homosexual), but it’s definitely not okay for guys and gals to do so.

This story has received a lot of media attention for two reasons:

1) Northrup has been cast as a “religious hero” by commentators with similar religious backgrounds.*

2) The case has called into question how Title IX is applied in school programs.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 which prohibits sex discrimination in any program or activity at educational institutions that receive federal funding. Although Title IX affects all areas of education, it has come to be most famous for the huge impact it has had on girls’ and women’s sports.

Title IX has popularly been construed as meaning that academic and sports funding have to be equal for men and women. But it has also come to mean that neither sex can be prohibited from participating in a program that is dominated by the opposite sex.

It wasn’t that long ago that women were considered to be intellectually inferior to men which meant that men and women could not compete with each other academically. But since that belief has been (mostly) debunked, there has been relatively little hoopla about the mixing of the sexes in academic programs.

Sports, however, are a whole other ball game (no pun intended). The argument goes that males and females just aren’t equal physically; therefore, they can’t be on the same team or compete against each other. But should it be “can’t” meaning “not allowed to” or “can’t” meaning “unable”?

It’s hard to argue with the statement that women don’t usually have the physical strength that men have. However, wrestling is a sport where physical strength is not a major component. Also, the combatants are matched weight-wise.

But the question is, if a girl does meet the physical requirements of a given sport, why shouldn’t she be allowed to compete with the boys?

We used to think that the military was the last bastion of sexual discrimination. Now it appears that it’s the sports world.

* Read Ms. Blog‘s article about the religious world’s response to Northrup’s action.

Nicola Briggs Is My Hero

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I missed this back in late November/December when it originally happened. Take a look.

I think it’s awesome that she followed through and got him arrested.

Giulia Rozzi adds her two-cents about the incident and flashers in general on Huffington Post.com.

The cartoonist Amy Martin picked Nicola as her “Favorite Person of 2010.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act is DOA

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While I was celebrating Eid Al-Adha on Tuesday, the Senate was voting on whether or not to proceed to a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act. This is called voting on a motion to invoke cloture and is used to end a filibuster. Because cloture requires a two-thirds majority to push it through, it only takes 41 Senators to revoke it. And on Tuesday, that’s exactly what happened.

Since there are only 57 Democrats and two Independents in the Senate now, it would have taken one Republican breaking the ranks to achieve cloture (assuming that the Independents voted with the Democrats). Not only did that not happen, but Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson from Nebraska sided with the Republicans. (Sen. Lisa Murkowski, newly-elected Senator from Alaska did not vote, but since she’s a Republican, it’s assumed that she would have voted along party lines, which would have given the Republicans 42 votes. But even if she would have broken ranks and voted with the Democrats, cloture would still have been rejected 59-41.)

In Great Britain it only takes a simple majority to invoke cloture, but that has been rejected in the U.S. because it’s thought that a simple majority doesn’t do enough to protect the rights of the minority. Silly me: I’ve always been under the impression that in a democracy a simple majority rules. Apparently that’s not the case when it comes to ending filibusters, which is one reason why they’re so hard to end.

Sorry for the civics lesson, but if you’re like me, you find this whole process confusing.

So why would anyone vote against the Paycheck Fairness Act? Because it would put too much of a burden on businesses. In other words, businesses should be allowed not only to pay their female employees less but also to hide the fact that they’re doing so! And people say that there is no more gender inequality in this country.

Another objection to the bill is that it was unnecessary since legislation already exists that makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender (although it has yet to be determined if this means that transgendered people are also protected). (Read Nancy Pelosi’s comments on the issue of wage discrimination.) However, the Paycheck Fairness Act includes many provisions that would make it easier to enforce laws that already exist, provide for research and training, and give women the right to sue over discriminatory practices. (At present, they are only able to collect back pay, or double that amount for willful violation.)

Of course, another objection is that the bill would increase litigation against businesses. Again, if businesses don’t want to be sued, then they should pay women and men the same pay for equal work. It’s as simple as that. Maybe it will take a few lawsuits before businesses finally decide that it’s not in their best interests to shortchange their female employees.

Read more here (Huffington Post)and here (Wall Street Journal). Also, see these statistics about the wage gap. You’ll be astonished.

Catholic Church Investigating U.S. Nuns

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If you’re a nun, you probably know about this. If you’re a Catholic, you might or might not. But I would guess that if you’re outside the Catholic Church, you haven’t even heard of the investigation of U.S. nuns that the Vatican has been conducting for over a year.

There are actually two investigations. One is known as an Apostolic Visitation, which Church historians say was traditionally ordered when a Church institution had gone seriously astray. Is that what the Vatican thinks has happened to American nuns? The wording on the web page of the “Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States” is (intentionally?) vague. Apparently it is felt that there are “concerns” that need to be addressed, but the web site doesn’t say what those concerns are.

The second investigation of nuns is a doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. It was ordered by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is headed by an American, Cardinal William Levada. The LCWR drew the ire of the Vatican decades ago during Pope John Paul II ‘s visit to the U.S. when it called for the ordination of women. In 2002, it was warned that it was not doing enough to promote the Church’s teachings on three issues: the male-only priesthood, homosexuality and the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the means to salvation.

Some speculate that the investigations were triggered by conservatives in the Catholic Church who are dismayed at the trend among some American nuns to forgo the habit, live outside the convent, and work for causes that are not specifically Christian-oriented.

There are a few things that bother me about these investigations:

  1. The Catholic Church seems to be  more concerned about appearance than about results. What difference does it make whether or not nuns wear their habits? Perhaps the male leaders (and all the leaders at the top are male) are afraid that they will tempted to participate in “un-Christianlike” behavior if they don’t always have the habit to remind them (and others) that they are nuns.
  2. The ones who are calling for these investigations are all male. They’ve appointed a woman to be in charge of the Apostolic Visitation but she’s just doing their dirty work. She may even believe that the Visitation is a good thing, that it will lead to more support for nuns and their work. While it may do so in some cases, it seems much more likely that nuns will find their activities more closely scrutinized and controlled by the male hierarchy of the Church.
  3. I’m also bothered by the insinuation that only Christian work is God’s work. There are many ways to serve God and they don’t always have to be under the blanket of a religion. Isn’t it enough for those being helped to know that the nuns who are helping them are representatives of the Catholic Church? The insistence on Christian work only furthers the divide between the world and the church.
  4. The Catholic Church uses nuns as a kind of work force instead of valuing them as religious leaders. They are there to convert others by their example, to do the work that priests don’t want to do and to uphold the teachings of the Church (teachings that were established by men).
  5. The implication of this whole affair is that nuns are to be kept in their places. They are not to ask for anything (like the ordination of women); they are only to obey. They’re not being asked what they want changed to make their jobs easier; they’re being asked what they’re doing to make the Church’s job harder. It’s insulting that women are being investigated when they have no real input into the workings of the Church.
  6. And why is it that only American nuns are being investigated? Could it be that they are more likely to be “infected” by an independent attitude?

I’m not a Catholic, but I don’t think I have to be to recognize patriarchy when I see it.

It will be interesting to see what these investigations turn up. But more than likely the average person won’t be kept informed. I found out about the investigations by accident; it will probably take some digging to find out the results. I’d love to know what nuns are thinking about this whole thing, but it seems that most of them are keeping their opinions to themselves (or at least not expressing them to the outside world).

For more information, check out:

U.S. Nuns Facing Vatican Scrutiny.” New York Times, July 1, 2009.

Vatican Probe of U.S. Nuns Moves Quietly Forward.” womensenews.org, February 10, 2010.

Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States web site.

Leadership Conference of Women Religious web site.

Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church’s Betrayal of American Nuns, by Kenneth A. Briggs  (Doubleday Religion, 2006).